Many of us feel embarrassed about our bodies or have been sexually rejected at some point. Not to mention our culture and life experiences which have created feelings of sexual shame, making romantic and intimate sex a scary endeavour to even talk about.
In an online study of 70,000 people in 24 countries, researchers found couples who have a great sex life make sex a priority rather than the last item of a long to-do list. They create space for intimacy and connection. These couples talk about sex and put the relationship first, despite the demands of work and kids. They discover sexual pleasure through a variety of methods, not just intercourse.
Sexually satisfied couples are emotionally attuned to each other inside and outside of the bedroom. The key to long-term happiness then, sexually and otherwise, is for both partners to support and value their friendship. Below are five steps to make sex more romantic in your relationship.
1. Learn the Art of Intimate Sex Talk
A major obstacle to having good sex is talking about sex. Since it can be such a sensitive topic, many couples “vague out” rather than vulnerably tell each other what they need.
Only 9% of couples who can’t comfortably talk about sex with one another report they’re satisfied sexually. Talking about sex is a powerful way to deepen intimacy and emotional connection. It allows partners to express their likes and dislikes and work together to build a meaningful sexual relationship with each other.
2. Redefine “Sex”
Each person brings to the relationship their own unique attitude about sex that has been shaped by their life experiences. Sex education in school is normally about human anatomy and physiology, but rarely about sex within a relationship.
Were you ever taught the skills to communicate, handle uncomfortable moments, and talk about sex with someone you loved? So when you got into sexual relationships, how did you feel about your desires?
Most books on relationships don’t go into detail on sex, reflecting what most couples do when it comes to sex talk. Men often grow up thinking that sex defined their masculinity, so it became more about technique rather than passion and intimate conversation with their partner.
Often men worry about their performance and women worry about achieving orgasms. Shere Hite’s research found that men compared achieving an orgasm to scoring a touchdown. Sadly, goal-orientated sex can create sexual dysfunction when the goal isn’t reached. Partners feel like there’s something wrong with them. This pressure and shame makes it easy to understand why so many of us are self-conscious about talking about sex.
Instead of trying to focus on the end result, it is important for couples to slow down and enjoy the entire experience. As Dr. Gottman says, “every positive thing you do in your relationship is foreplay.” Every time you turn towards each other, you build trust and intimacy.
By redefining sex, partners can make their physical relationship more pleasurable even if an orgasm isn’t achieved. Ironically, not being stressed about having an orgasm makes it easier to have one. Great sex is the by-product of a great connection with each other.
3. Build Erotic Love Maps
An erotic Love Map is a guide to what turns your partner on and off erotically. Understanding this is one of the 13 things that creates a great sex life. Building a map of your partner’s body and desires can be achieved by asking specific questions about what they like and what they need:
What felt good about sex last time?
- What did we do that caused you to feel closer and connected to me?
- What did we do that made you relax?
- What did we do that turned you on?
What do you need to make sex better for you?
- What do you need to feel in the mood for sex?
- What makes sex more like lovemaking for you?
- What are fantasies or thoughts you have during sex?
4. Create Rituals for Initiating and Refusing Sex
We often hear from couples that their partner should “just know” that they’re feeling horny. The assumption your partner can read your mind is false and limits the depth of your intimate relationship.
Not to mention, learning how to say no to your partner in a way that doesn’t feel hurtful is just as important as learning how to cope with your partner saying no. This sexual initiation and refusal is a dance which can be choreographed to making yes and no feel less personal and more acceptable.
Saying yes to sex While many of us dream of our partners being so attuned to us that they “can just tell I want them,” most of the time our “obvious” signs are not so obvious. Have a conversation with your partner about cues, verbal and nonverbal, that you can count on and look forward to.
A couple from Dr. Gottman’s lab used Korean dolls on the mantle to signal their desire. When one partner wanted sex, he or she put the doll in a new position. The partner then signalled their interest by repositioning the other doll.
Your ritual doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can be as simple as rubbing your partner’s back in a certain way, which allows them the option to continue the physical connection or kindly decline.
Another option is to use the arousal scale created by sex therapist Lonnie Barbach. To combat the simple “yes or no” sex request, Lonnie suggests that couples tell each other their level of arousal with a scale from 1 to 9.
- 1 would be “No thanks, not tonight.”
- 5 would be “I might get a little wild tonight… convince me.”
- 9 would be “YES!!!!”
Saying no to sex
There will be times when you’re just not in the mood. The key to maintaining emotional connection is to refuse sex gently.
According to Dr. Gottman’s research, it has to be okay, even rewarding, for either partner to refuse sex. As counterintuitive as this sounds, the research suggests that rewarding your partner for saying no with a positive response actually leads to more sex.
When you guilt trip your partner, withdraw emotionally, or withhold physical affection for saying no to sex, your bid for sex was not a bid – it was a demand. In Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenbeg highlights that when our partner “hears a demand from us, they see two options: to submit or to rebel.”
The key difference between a demand and a bid is how you behave if your partner refuses. It’s a demand if you criticise or withdraw. It’s a bid if you show empathy toward your partner’s needs when they say no.
For three tools to not feel so rejected when your partner refuses sex, read here:
Don’t take the “no” personally.
Realize that a lack of a sexual desire for you isn’t all about you. Stresses from work, health issues, and general exhaustion drain us from having the energy to get it on. For most couples, we recommend using an arousal scale. It allows partners to realize that desire can be different among partners at the same time but doesn’t mean that the relationship is any less passionate. It just means you’re not getting it on tonight.
The Curiosity of Rejection.
If you become angry, frustrated, or resent your partner, become curious as to why. Why is being told no to sex once such a big deal to you? Sex and love are full of private meanings. For example, when you were young, did sexual rejection mean you were inadequate and unworthy of love. Sex was validation for your self-worth, not a mutual act of appreciation and love.
The Mirror of Reflection.
If this rejection bothers you, ask yourself how this reflects on you. On your relationship. Recall the happy moments in your relationship to help cope with the feeling of rejection. Realize that your partner doesn’t want to hurt you and is merely telling you how they feel. Their behaviour has little to do with you and more to do with them; just as your behaviour and feelings have more to do with you than your partner. Reflect, ponder, and get to know yourself better.
Questions to ask your partner about refusing sex:
- What should I do if you’re not in the mood?
- If I am really horny for you but you are not feeling it, do you feel comfortable saying no? What do you need from me in order to feel comfortable saying no?
- If you are on the fence about having sex and I am really turned on, what do you need from me? Are you okay with me trying to get you in the mood? If so, how should I approach that?
5. Have Continuous Conversations About Sexual Intimacy
Improving your sex life doesn’t happen overnight. Make an intentional effort to continue talking about sex in your relationship. Ask questions and be curious about your partner’s deepest desires.
Doing so will allow your partner to openly express what they need to feel loved and will keep you attuned to each other’s needs, leading to an emotionally connected and fulfilling sex life.
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