EVER glance at your beloved and find yourself wondering where all the passion has gone?
Don’t be alarmed — research shows that it can take as little as 12 months for a relationship to lose its sizzle.
In a study last year of 3,000 men and women aged between 25 and 41, researchers from Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, reported that passion peaks after just a year together — and that after that things can go downhill.
The question: ‘How do we reignite the passion?’ is often posed to couples’ therapists.
But don’t presume there’s a quick fix to a flaccid love life, warns sex therapist and relationships counsellor Eithne Bacuzzi — reignition takes commitment and hard work.
“People come in for a quick fix, they want to revitalise their relationship in one easy sentence,” she says.
But it takes more than a quick-fix. “It’s not as easy as licking whipped cream off your partner’s body,” she warns. Putting the spice back in your sex life requires thought, energy, enthusiasm and passion.
Remember, she cautions, it takes two people to get to a place where the fizz in the relationship has gone flat and it takes the same two people to re-discover that spark.
Here’s how you do it:
“Fear causes lust,” declares David Kavanagh, sex therapist, relationships expert, and author of the just-published Love Rewired: Using Your Brain to Mend Your Heart.
Kavanagh points to a 1974 study by a team from the University of British Columbia who discovered that the chemicals produced when people are afraid can result in couples being far more attracted to each other.
“In other words, when couples are involved in a situation where there is adrenalin, it can cause lust,” he explains.
Researchers discovered that lust could be induced in men when they experienced the fear associated with walking across a dangerous rope bridge — they were far more attracted to the researcher on the opposite side of the bridge.
So ditch the romantic meal and opt for a more adventurous date, he suggests: “A little bit of adventure in terms of outdoor physical activities can actually be much better than a romantic meal in a restaurant!”
“Introduce an element of flirtation,” suggests Eithne Bacuzzi. Smile at each other, make a point of having coffee with one another. Give each other little compliments.
Try taking sex out of the bedroom, suggests Bacuzzi. Make love in the sitting room with a few candles, in the shower or enjoy a sensuous body massage. It useful to remember, she says, that good sex really begins long before you get into bed.
Routine causes boredom. The brain needs novelty because humdrum, day-to-day routine bores us, explains Kavanagh, who has worked with some 12,000 couples in marriage preparation and family therapy over the years.
“Change things around. Spicing things up doesn’t mean taking out the whips and chains but simply doing something different.”
He bases his advice on research published last year in the Journal of Neuroscience — where researchers found that subjects’ brains reward centres lit up in response to unpredictable stimuli. No such activity was found when the stimulus was expected.
Bacuzzi also believes in the power of surprise — organise a dinner date but also book a nice room in the hotel as an after-dinner surprise.
Research shows that mindfulness helps us get in touch with our bodies — and it’s actually a much better way of spicing up your love life than buying sexy lingerie or investing in sex toys.
“It helps you focus on your love-making and stops you getting distracted,” says Kavanagh.
Mindfulness trains you in the mental discipline you need to stay connected sexually — something Dr Lori Brotto of the University of British Columbiain Vancouver discovered over a number of studies. Mindfulness, she reports, helps women become more aware of their bodies’ physical response, enjoy sex more and overcome sexual dysfunction.
“The passion starts with the way to you talk to each other, the care and consideration you give to the little things and the little surprises along the way,” says Bacuzzi.
It’s very understandable when a couples lose touch with that ‘special feeling’ when they get busy with kids and humdrum daily life, but in order to keep a healthy exciting sex life you have to give your relationship time and you need to consciously make each other feel desired, valued, and wanted, she explains.
Recognise the need for foreplay, advises Bacuzzi. “It is fairly common with many couples that there’s no build-up to sex.
“I know couples whose sex life begins with a nudge or a tap on the shoulder and a request for sex - which is probably a huge turnoff and is unsexy and unromantic,” she warns.
It’s important to create space for sex and approach it in an attractive way — re-discover the art of making love rather than just having sex.
Pornography can be quite damaging if it’s part of a relationship, warns Kavanagh.
“It sets us up to have unrealistic expectations of what sex is and it removes the loving and emotional experience from this very intimate process.
“The problem with porn is that it makes sex very fast and very aggressive and that is not how sex is enjoyed by many people.”
Sex needs to be slowed down rather than speeded up, he says.
“Research tells us that far from improving your sex life, pornography has a hugely negative impact,” he says, pointing to the work of Dr William Struthers of the University of Chicago.
Have a very open conversation with your partner about sexual likes and dislikes.
“Sometimes we take for granted that our techniques are good,” says Kavanagh — but do we ever really check? Having honest communication where you can give feedback to your partner is good — if they can take it. Have the conversation, he urges, and watch the passion return to your sex life.
“If your sex life is dull and mundane and if you don’t have the conversation, things will continue on as they are and it may damage your relationship in the end.”
Agree on what you both feel is sexually desirable.
It’s fine if both of you want to “swing from the chandeliers,” — as long as it’s mutual, says Bacuzzi. “When you want to get sex right, open communication is crucial and fundamental.”
Which sexual category fits you? Couples psychotherapist Vickie McEvoy refers to Sue Johnston’s book Hold Me Tight:
There are three kinds of sex, and it’s important that couples identify which type they have — and which type they want:
- ‘Sealed off sex’ is about a quick sexual gratification. There is little real connection and one or other partner will soon feel secondary to the sexual experience.
- ‘Solace sex’ is where one or both people are looking for reassurance, and to lessen the attachment anxiety of being wanted and needed.
- ‘Synchrony sex’ is where both people are emotionally open, responsive, tender and erotic all at the same time. This is the ideal says McEvoy.
“Passion grows when you get the chemicals right,” says McEvoy, and to get them right you need to enjoy what she calls “connected sex”.
“The power of attraction is accompanied by a complex cocktail of powerful hormones that drive our behaviours which is why alcohol and some drugs affect the way we feel and behave sexually and regret afterwards.
“Natural chemicals like dopamine which controls our pleasure responses kicks in when something good happens between partners.
”This is followed by adrenalin, which makes our hearts at faster,” she says, adding that serotonin levels determine mood.
Oxytocin is the hormone that is the ‘cuddle hormone’ and is released after orgasm and lets us feels amazing and connected.
All of these chemicals you can get from healthy, ‘connected sex’ in which you are emotionally as well as physically close to your partner.
If you are looking for fireworks in your relationship, says McEvoy, you have to start with the basics of love, respect, safety and kindness.
This is a great way to get to know your own likes and dislikes and educate yourself and your partner about what is exciting for you both, says McEvoy.
“Sensate focus teaches couples about their erogenous zones,” she explains. It’s about gradually becoming familiar with each other’s likes and dislikes, taking responsibility for communicating your preferences to your partner — and of course, learning how to connect with your partner.
“Mundane repetitive sex occurs when little or no thought goes into it,” says Bacuzzi.
“It’s crucial to keep the closeness, the intimacy and the connection with your partner, through making your relationship a priority and creating space for it. This can be the greatest aphrodisiac.”