You can’t calculate intimacy with a quota

I’m 32 years old and my sex life with my girlfriend is brilliant, but friends in much longer-term relationships have warned me it will deplete over time, and become less exciting. Is it possible to stop this decline happening?

Habit is, as you recognise, a problematic aspect of any long-term sexual relationship, but long-term companionship offers such enormous physical, emotional and social benefits that most people figure the trade off is worth it. 

However, as long as a relationship remains meaningful, familiarity does not translate into boredom. When you are single you are able to have lots of relationships with different people. 

When you are part of a couple you have lots of different relationships with one person. You fall in and out of love with each other all the time. You have novel sex. You have dull sex. You have make-up sex. 

Sexual relationships are not static and boredom is not a passive response to over- familiarity. 

It is something one or both partners actively allows to happen to a sexual relationship that is almost certainly under- performing on multiple levels.

Several surveys have shown relationship duration is positively correlated with a decline in sexual desire, sexual satisfaction, and sexual frequency, however it is not necessarily a linear, or even an inevitable, progression. 

Sexual frequency can increase, or, in response to an array of mental, physical, relational, social, even financial changes. 

Think about it. When you get ill, chances are you don’t feel like having sex. And if, for example, you and your girlfriend ever decide to have a baby, chances are, your sexual frequency will go through the roof. 

Since none of us can predict the future, there is not much point in worrying about occasional fluctuations in sexual activity, unless of course, they correlate with a worrying decline in relationship satisfaction.

Sexual and relational satisfaction are intrinsically linked, which is why sexual difficulties are such a useful gauge of the health of a relationship. Stable relationships, in which both partners consider themselves happy and satisfied, are more likely to report higher rates of sexual activity than relationships characterised by friction and strain. 

It makes intuitive sense that couples who like each other are more likely to touch each other, and because this association is bi-directional, the recipe for a good sex life is pretty much the same as the recipe for having a good relationship.

What is that recipe? Well, there are research papers galore on every element in the following list, but in a nutshell; be positive, cheerful and complimentary; communicate openly and listen to your partner when they share their thoughts or feelings with you; have an equitable relationship; give assurances about your level of commitment and talk about your future together; spend time in each other’s social circles; share chores; be supportive; do fun and exciting things together; practise sexual and emotional self disclosure (be open about what you like and don’t like sexually); use inside jokes (pet names) and humour; and manage conflict in a constructive way.

Given the idiosyncratic nature of sexual desire and the fact that your sexual interactions are still frequent and spontaneous, I don’t think there is any need for you to start scribbling sex into your weekly diary just yet. 

Besides being unnecessarily prescriptive, scheduling sex is really a last resort for couples who have an otherwise solid relationship, but who have allowed other aspects of their life to deprioritise sex.

Sustaining a sexual connection is very important, but you shouldn’t get too hung up on frequency. T

here are couples who have miserable sex every night and don’t speak to each other all day. And there are couples who have glorious sex once a month, and bask in the afterglow for weeks. 

Statistically, couples who only have sex every four or five weeks should be classified as “sexless” but if two people have a happy relationship and are happy with having sex once a month, they are happy. End of. You can’t calculate intimacy with a quota and ultimately it is relationship satisfaction that counts.

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Dr Sarah Miller is the CEO of Dublin’s Rediscovery Centre, the national centre for the Circular Economy in Ireland. She has a degree in Biotechnology and a PHD in Environmental Science in Waste Conversion Technologies.‘We have to give people positive messages’

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