Maintaining a healthy sex life is not easy. Couples get into a routine and life gets busy. Add kids and demanding jobs to the equation, and maintaining any sort of intimacy is a daunting task. But however hard it might be, it's important. Good sex can keep couples connected and content. And luckily there are tried and tested tips and strategies to help keep that spark alive.
For advice, we turned to Cyndi Darnell, a sex therapist and relationship counselor in New York City. For over 40 years she's been helping couples (straight, gay, polyamorous, you name it!) get the sex life they yearn for, whether they are looking for pleasure, passion, or more intimacy. We also interviewed real women about how they maintain a healthy sex life with their partners (we changed their names to respect their privacy). Here is everything you need to know.
Meet the Expert
Cyndi Darnell is a sex therapist and relationship counselor in New York City
Signs of a Healthy Sex Life
It's hard to know what a healthy sex life is. If you're having sex once a month, is that positive? What if you are only having sex a few times a year, but you and your partner are content? Darnell says there is no one-size-fits-all definition for a healthy sex life. What is important is that you and your partner are happy and satisfied. "Consent and pleasure are the only clues," she shares. "Ask yourself, 'Is this nourishing me in some way?' If so, then you are on the right track. If not, ask yourself, 'What would make it better for me?'"
If you and your partner feel something is missing don't worry, says Darnell: "In my 20 years of sex therapy I have never met a sex problem that couldn't be resolved with kindness and education."
Tips for a Healthy Sex Life
Communication is Key
When it comes to enjoying a healthy sex life, communication is everything. Talk to your partner about what you like, how much sex you want to have, even how and where you like to do it. "Talk about pleasure," offers Darnell. "Talk about what turns you on and what turns you off with equal vigor." Many couples avoid the conversation because they don't want to offend their partner or admit something is lacking. But remember, nothing can be resolved until it is discussed openly.
Darnell recommends talking about sex when you're not in bed and not naked. That way the discussions will become a more regular, normal part of your life. "Talk about sex with the same freedom you talk about recipes and baseball," she adds. "That will reduce the stigma."
Before you tell your partner what you like, you need to know yourself. Darnell encourages her clients to educate themselves about sex and find out what feels good. "If you don't know what you like in bed, learn," she says. "Take classes and workshops with your partner. Masturbate. Watch porn. Talk about touch. Follow sexologists on Instagram for thousands of free tips daily."
Don't Judge Yourself or Your Partner
You both need to feel safe in order to open up and keep your sex lives healthy. That means no judging (yourself or your partner!). "Sex is sex. There are hundreds of ways to have sex," explains Darnell. "Focus on how you want to feel, not what judgment is placed upon the activities."
Do not assign blame if your sex lives aren't going well. Many couples struggle with intimacy, and it's very normal.
It also has nothing to do with how much you love each other and how committed you are to the relationship. "You have to cultivate connection and pleasure," says Darnell. "It will not fall out of the sky and love is not enough. You have to make it happen."
Seek Professional Help if Needed
If you are unsatisfied with your sex life you are far from alone. "Many people have problems with sex because most of us grew up in a culture that taught us that balancing a checkbook was more important than creating harmonious sexual relationships," admits Darrell.
If you and your partner have tried to talk about your problems and it hasn't made things better or you are having trouble having the conversation altogether, you might want to seek professional help. "Having problems with sex is normal. Ignoring the problems is a choice," she shares. "Most sex problems are resolved with meaningful adult sex education provided by a sexologist or sex counselor or coach."
How to Keep Intimacy Alive in Your Marriage
Here is wisdom from two real-life women about how they keep intimacy alive in their marriages.
Sarah: With her husband for 15 years. Married for 9 years.
As two working adults with stressful careers and young children, by the time we're done with work, feeding the kids, bath time, putting them to bed, we are mentally exhausted (and maybe physically as well). On the weekends there is always something going on with the kids or friends or family.
As with anything that is important to you, you have to make having sex a priority, even if it’s something as "unsexy" as scheduling it. For example, we realized we were just having sex once a week on weekends so we decided to have sex every Wednesday. Now we both know that Wednesday is a sex date, and even if we’re tired, we have sex. Once we start, it’s great!
We also do our best to get away just the two of us even if it’s just for a couple of nights. It really allows us to get grounded as a couple and relax and focus on each other. We also schedule date nights once every two to three weeks.
I think it’s also important to continue making each other feel wanted. We do things like give each small compliments. As cheesy as it sounds, you should continue to court each other.
We try to communicate what we need to feel satisfied sexually. For example, my husband likes to experiment with sex toys on me, and I like to have sex with him while watching porn. It's spiced up our sex life.
Rebecca: With her husband for 17 years. Married for 9 years.
Whatever excitement exists when you are dating, engaged and then in early marriage has to be replaced by a more purposeful decision to prioritize your relationship. I think a lot of it is making sure you still feel sexy and think about sex. If sex doesn't remain a top-of-mind priority I think it's easy to ignore it and forget its importance. I think we all expect immediate attraction to our partner to do the work for us, but long-term relationships obviously don't work like that after the first few years.
For women it's often more of a mental game than anything else, so you need to figure out what gets you in the mood. Personally, I love reading rom-coms that are a bit steamy. I think women need to be more willing to experiment to figure out what works for them both mentally and physically—be it novels, vibrators, lubricants, positions, porn, whatever. It isn't your partner's job to get inside your head—do your own work.
We are lucky to live in the age of the internet where even the most squeamish people can google questions without having to actually ask anyone in person. Come up with ideas and then communicate them to your partner, no matter how uncomfortable you feel verbalizing those ideas. The more you talk about what you want the more comfortable you will get and the easier it will be to get in the mood with your partner.
The reason you married this specific person is for friendship and sex. So much of the bond in a marriage is because of that intimacy that you only share with each other—so if that portion of it falls by the wayside then you are reducing your marriage to nothing more than a friendship or even a child-rearing business proposition. You are never too busy to have sex a few times a week because there shouldn't be a higher priority. Think of your own sexual pleasure as a necessary part of your life like showering and eating (you wouldn't get so busy with work or kids that you forgot to shower, right?).