*Spoiler alert: Gettin' busy changes after gettin' hitched. Author of the new novel *Luckiest Girl Alive *Jessica Knoll explains how to make sure it's for the better. *
I sometimes make this corny joke that I have a PhD in human sexuality from women's magazines. Not from reading them (that might get you a bachelor's) but by writing for them, which I did for six years, interviewing top-notch experts about how to have better, crazier sex and more of it. Ask me what the most sensitive part of the penis is (the frenulum). Ask me what doughnuts and scrunchies have in common (secret double lives as sex toys). Ask me if the G-spot really exists. (Trick question! It does, but it's technically part of the clitoris.) However, if you had asked me during the first two years of my marriage what to do if one half of a couple likes to have sex at night and the other likes to have sex in the morning, and how you can surmount such an incompatibility, I wouldn't have had an answer for you. Yes, I, plucky sex writer, was incapable of applying all my expertise to my own nascent marriage for the simple fact that my husband and I couldn't find a time to get it on.
Mind you, there was plenty of applying my expertise before we got married. We met three years ago and lived together for two of them, during which time, buoyed by that early infatuation period when we couldn't get enough of each other, we managed to make our opposing circadian rhythms work. I'd long had an aversion to the wee hours, but my husband (then boyfriend) made a morning person out of me, as some of our best sex happened on the weekends after he awakened me wordlessly, that look in his eye. Right up until the wedding, the routine held.
Then a month or so after we returned from our honeymoon, I decided to put my newfound morning chipperness to another use: I would embark on my lifelong dream of writing a novel. Monday through Friday, I rose at 6:30 a.m. to write before heading off to my day job. On the weekends, I was pecking away at my keyboard by 8. Before I knew it, the characters in my psychological thriller were having more sex than I was. (Twisted, unhealthy sex, but still.) It was thoroughly depressing to lose our groove so soon after tying the knot. Sex went from feeling like a base need to something we now had to "make happen."
This is more common than you'd think, says couples therapist Rachel Sussman. "During the first two years of a relationship, you're flooded with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that increase the pleasure you get out of sex," she says. "As the relationship stabilizes, those hormones taper off and the oxytocin kicks in, making you feel content and cuddly, not horny." Which is nice, right? Except that it means you have to work a bit harder for your wild nights. "If you want to continue to have an erotic sex life, you have to fight biology," says Sussman. Despair not. There are ways to beat nature at its own game, as I discovered by going back to my roots: interviewing experts about how to have better, crazier sex and more of it — for life.
Talk about it.
"We have premarital conversations about money and kids. Sex should be something you discuss too," says Sussman. "Ask each other, 'What's going to happen as our life changes? How important is sex to you? How often do you need to have it to be happy?'" As you enter this new phase in which having sex is nice but not a matter of life or death, it can end up on the back burner. To avoid that fate, acknowledge that sexual desire will evolve over the years, then shake on a plan of action, whether it's that you'll always have sex X amount of times a week, you'll take turns being the one to initiate, or you'll visit a sex shop once a year to keep things kinky.
Put sex first.
Part of the reason sex was off the table at night was that my husband and I had different weeknight bedtimes: me, 11 p.m.; my husband, sometimes as early as 9:30 p.m. to accommodate his early wake-up. I realized that getting our rhythms in sync was step one to returning to having sex on the regular — whether at night or in the morning. So I started turning in early too. Did I want to get into bed in the middle of a new Real Housewives of New York episode? No, but my marriage was more important than whether or not Ramona would forgive Bethenny for throwing a competing brunch. And I was on to something: "Research shows that couples who sustain great sex over the decades have two things — a strong friendship and a commitment to prioritizing sex," says Emily Nagoski, author of Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. Sometimes, she says, married action has to be a "deliberate decision," because as life gets busier there are going to be fewer opportunities for spontaneous acts of desire.
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Reintroduce sexual tension.
"For some couples, getting married changes the context of the relationship in a way that improves their sex lives. They find the stability and comfort hot," says Nagoski. "For others, the security of marriage means the tension dissipates, and that can take the wind out of their sails." When one of you wants to have sex and the other doesn't, sometimes it's best to get your body started anyway, because your mind will catch up. But for those times when it's just off the table, make the negotiation erotic. One way to do that is to build in rules about when you're not allowed to have sex. That's right, not allowed. "There is a huge focus in our culture about the amount of sex you're having," says Nagoski, "when it should really be about how much you enjoy the sex you're having. Making rules against sex — like, you're allowed to have it only on Tuesdays — increases anticipation and, ultimately, sexual stimulation without increasing the amount of sex you have." In other words, set parameters, then focus on quality instead of quantity and see where it takes you.
Give each other space.
A little separation — and not just of the physical sort — can be a powerful aphrodisiac. "Much has been written about ways to increase intimacy in a marriage," says Michael Gurian, marriage therapist and author of Lessons of Lifelong Intimacy. "The trick to doing that is not relying on each other more — that's easy to do — but focusing on creating equal parts psychological separateness." The rationale is this: With too much intimacy, a couple becomes enmeshed, and whether you realize it or not, you end up placing pressure on each other to feel whole, and that's erotic kryptonite. To create psychological separateness, you need to retain intellectual autonomy and accept that your husband is not going to agree with you on everything just because he's pledged to be
by your side for life. You're not Renée Zellweger, and you do not complete him.
Change the game.
Since sex tends to be effortlessly awesome through hormonal default for the first few years, you probably don't need many bells and whistles to make it mind blowing right now. But there may come a point where you want to segue into what Nagoski calls "advance the plot" sex, upping the ante and trying something you've never done before, to get some of those novelty hormones back in the mix. Just remember that finding your inner Fifty Shades is not something you should suddenly spring on someone, so refer back to tip No. 1 and talk about it first.
Which is why tonight, I'm telling my husband about a fantasy I've always had in which I'm not allowed to orgasm until he gives me permission. Or, who knows, maybe I'll tell him tomorrow morning.