Early in relationships, couples are often very passionate. New lovers may obsessively think about each other and be consumed by desire to be together. The stereotype is this desire goes away over time and that passion isn't sustainable. But many people are able to maintain a satisfying, active sex life over the long haul. What makes that possible?
The science of love
There is a time limit on the manic, obsessive phase of attraction. When we first fall for someone, our brains are flooded with dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. When we see or hear our crush, it doses us with these monoamines, just like taking a hit of a drug. But we become acclimated over time. Crazed feelings of attraction fade after 18-24 months, but hopefully are replaced by something more substantive that was built in the meantime. Passion can be retained, but it looks different after intimacy has replaced novelty.
Comparison is useless
We cannot return to how a relationship used to be -back when we didn't know each other and didn't have all these shared experiences. It's also important to note that ebbs and flows in desire are completely normal: even the best couples have hard times and dry spells.
Expectations need to be realistic about what people can do, what bodies look like, and the limitations that come with aging. Be adaptable and adjust accordingly.
You may not have needed lube before, but now you do. Oh well, get some lube. You may have previously been able to have an erection last for an hour, but now it's briefer, if at all: ok, find other ways to show affection and look into buying toys.
Just because you can't have sex the same way you always did doesn't mean it's time to throw in the towel. Be adventurous: there are no limits to the ways we can find pleasure and share intimacy.
There's also only so much to gain from looking at other relationships, even our own previous ones. Comparison is rarely helpful because situations are always different and we lack enough data. It's impossible to know the inner workings in other couples, no matter how close we are. Ultimately, there's no One Size Fits All solution for satisfactory, sustainable sex. The key is finding what works best for our current needs in particular. And that first requires identifying our needs.
What's your sexual mission statement?
Your sex life is a mutual investment. Then it's not about who owes whom or who has more power. Commit to putting effort towards a sexual relationship that nourishes both of you. That includes:
Maintaining sexual passion is about approach: being collaborative, communicative, adventurous, and focusing on pleasure and intimacy instead of emphasizing goals and doing things "right." Your partner is your teammate and you can support each other to make the game last as long as possible.
Dr. Timaree Schmit earned her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality from Widener University, where she now trains future sexologists and clinicians. Her passion is bringing rational, empirically-based, sex-positive information to the world, empowering others to celebrate their bodies, build intimacy and experience pleasure.