Medically reviewed by Jennifer Litner, LMFT, CST — Written by Tom Russell
~ The relationship between sex and marriage is as complicated as… well, a marriage. So, how do you stay on top of married sex?
One subtext of a marriage proposal is “Will you do sex with me until we die?” Sex is a crucial part of marriage.
So, why can keeping it up be so hard? The key to good sex in marriage doesn’t involve constant bonking. It’s the understanding that your spouse is a fellow traveler through life.
It’s important to understand your partner’s sexual journey — as well as your own. Here’s the 411.
What makes a healthy married sex life?
Married sex flourishes or peters out based on these qualities:
There are loads of tips, tricks, and techniques available for peeps looking to spice up the marital bed. None are quick fixes, and anyone who says otherwise is lying.
But the stereotype that sex has to suck during marriage is bullsh*t.
Ideally, marriage lasts until death (do you part) or one of you taps out. Your married sex life is a long-term project. Managing it is closer to running a company than planning a party.
Both participants need to be active and involved — and not just between the sheets.
Schedule hanky-panky in the calendar
According to a 2014 study, many sexual experiences in early adulthood are casual. From quickies in the car to “we’re both up, we might as well” 3:00 a.m. romps, the freedom of youth allows for spicy encounters at the drop of some underwear.
However, casual hookups (and the spontaneous lovemaking that accompanies them) tend to become a thing of the past the further you move into adult life – married or otherwise. You generally have more and more sh*t going on and smaller/sparser pockets of time and energy in which you feel friské.
According to the United States Census Bureau, couples are now marrying later in life. Work, family, bodily changes, and other commitments can make sexual spontaneity a little more difficult as time progresses. (People marry later for many reasons, though — it’s the new normal.)
In marriage, you can’t center your sex life around waiting for the “right” moment. It can be tough to find an opening for that steamy encounter on your kitchen countertop (and not just because of that coffee machine you haven’t gotten around to fixing yet).
Speak to your S.O. and schedule a day trip to Sexy town (it’s like Funky town but more naked). A circle on the calendar could make that Ikea trip worth it after all.
Spontaneity is exciting. But so is the anticipation and the buildup. Setting time aside for sex doesn’t only make sure it happens — the anticipation also keeps the fire burning in both of your loins while you wait.
Ace the “married” part, and the sex will follow
Very few people enjoy banging folks they don’t like. And those who do rarely sign up for a long-term deal. It’s like signing up for a Netflix subscription that only provides video tutorials for washing machine installation.
Healthy marital sex doesn’t really spring from unhealthy marriages. It’s a two-way street. A strong marriage makes for a healthy married sex life, according to First Things First.
And an excellent married sex life can support a healthy marriage. Being in sync in the sack keeps that ring from feeling like a shackle. They’re linked.
Making a marriage tick is hard 👏🏽 ass 👏🏽 work.
When you communicate effectively and make time for one another, you’ll connect more completely with your partner. And you’ll see the effects betwixt the sheets. Platonic efforts can have orgasmic pay offs.
🎤 I won’t f*ck anybody else, to make me want to touch you I’ll touch myself 🎼
Masturbation is good for you. It doesn’t make you blind. No small animals will pass to the Great Farm In The Sky because you did so. But it might help you connect better with both your own sexual needs and those of your partner.
Dancing to your tune can help relieve stress. It may also increase your sex drive for a whole bunch of reasons.
A nice bonus is that masturbation feels great.
Orgasms release feel-good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine, according to a 2011 research review. These help your brain associate sexy time with happy feelings. Masturbation is a shot of ‘hooray!’ for the brain that you can administer at will.
Playing by yourself can help boost your sexual confidence. Confidence helps you feel sexy. And feeling sexy is a healthy part of doing sexual things.
It’s hard to relax getting down when you struggle to find your groove. Explore your body solo — doing so can help you relax and understand how it functions. And your partner will reap the benefits.
Sex in marriage is a two-person job (or more, if that’s your dynamic). A healthy sex life is not one partner dictating terms and expecting the other(s) to follow. It requires regular, open, and honest communication.
You’ll find that there’s plenty to talk about. You may hear about a new toy you want to try. Or maybe an awkward shift in position accidentally led to new ideas you’d like to give a real go.
tl;dr: Talking about sex opens the door for better sex.
It’s also a chance to air any grievances about the current state of play in the bedroom. This can be uncomfortable to discuss. But communicating the negative as well as the positive is important. Bottling up feelings can lead to resentment.
Clear communication is also important for setting boundaries, like those in an open marriage that involves bringing other people into your sex life. Find out where you both stand, make that bed, and lie in it (quite literally).
The language of luuuuuuurve
Love languages are legit. They’re literally a cheat code for giving and receiving appreciation from your spouse (but cheating is categorically not one of them). Not everyone speaks in roses, chocolates, and foot rubs.
A marriage counselor called Gary Chapman came up with these in his book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. These five languages include:
- quality time
- giving/receiving gifts
- words of affirmation
- acts of service
- physical touch
So, try cleaning the whole house, even if you hate cleaning. The key to getting those sheets dirty could be washing them. Sacrificing enjoyment to make your partner happy might push all the blood straight to their naughty places.
The ways you and your spouse like to show and receive affection might be wildly different.
You might prefer a cuddle. They may go for genuine compliments instead. They may show love by fixing everything in the house or making your meals. You might show admiration by writing them well-intentioned poems.
Take time to learn your partner’s love language and teach them yours. Love languages are also much easier to learn than Japanese. And unlike Japanese, literally everybody speaks a love language.
This can not only help you stoke romantic feelings, but also avoid argumentative ones. If you don’t get many compliments from your partner, but that’s not how they demonstrate their love, you won’t feel short-handed if you develop that understanding.
Show your partner how you feel in the way they want to receive it. It will improve your sex life no end. Passion out of the sack begets passion within it.
Knowing how to get your partner in the mood is one thing. Getting yourself in the mood is another entirely.
You also can’t expect your legally recognized bae to push all of your buttons. There are some only you can reach. If your spouse can’t get your groin thumping, you might experience a wandering mind and unjustified feelings of resentment. That can put hella strain on the marriage. And it’s also avoidable.
There’s plenty you can do to get the motor running. Turning yourself on isn’t a switch-flick scenario. There are many tried and tested methods for boosting your libido, passed down by generations of sexually confident friends at couples’ charades nights.
You can hijack your horniness in wedlock in the following ways:
- Plan ahead. Use pre-scheduled sexytime to build up anticipation.
- Date nights. Organize an exciting evening out that you know will end in naked touchy time. It’s a great way to stoke the ol’ boiler. (There are tunes that will help you set the mood as well.)
- Relax for a bit. Maybe have a bubble bath, pop on some ambient music, or get in some yoga/meditation time. It’s hard to feel horny if you’re tense.
- Read/watch content that turns you on. As if you needed another reason to watch “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.” (For real, though, please choose literally any other movie.)
- Masturbate. Touch yourself while you think about your spouse. It’s easier to feel sexual with your partner if you associate them with sexual satisfaction.
- Dress the part. Bust out the high-end lingerie, a shirt you feel great in, or those jeans that make your ass look internet-breaking from any angle. If you feel sexy in it, wear it. Sideline those physical distancing sweatpants and get into those physical closeness undies.
Your libido may be low due to an underlying health concern like a medication change or a chronic condition. If these suggestions don’t change anything, it might be time to approach your doc about the next steps.
Add to the repertoire: Trying new sex stuff
If the financial success of “50 Shades of Gray” taught us anything, it’s that y’all be a kinky bunch.
Talk to your partner about it. Let them know your sexual fantasies and encourage your bae to talk about their own. There are a bunch of ways to inject excitement into your post-nuptial f*ck nest.
That something new doesn’t have to involve joining a BDSM club or going to a swingers’ party (although if that floats your boat, climb aboard). It could be as simple as trying new positions or sex toys.
Introducing porn into the bedroom might also spice up your lives. Watching porn together can be a lot of fun.
Just make sure you go about it with a healthy mindset. Most porn is to real, intimate sex what WWE is to gladiatorial combat in Caesar’s Rome. Keep it in context, and use it for stimulation rather than practical guidance.
Whatever avenues you decide to explore, trying new things is one of the easiest ways to keep the grumps from your humps.
Sexual hiatuses happen for loads of reasons. Work, kids, illness, stressful periods like a new move or placing a relative into care — working through these life events is part of marriage that never goes away.
Life comes at you fast, which means that “coming” may have to take a back seat. But you don’t have to see this hiatus as a concern.
For many couples, lulls in sexual activity are part and parcel of traveling through life together. Dry spells don’t always mean that something is amiss in your relationship.
Marriage is more than banging. Yes, sex is a huge part of it (there’s a reason bowling with your best bud isn’t cheating but making out with them after is). But it’s not the whole shebang.
Many folks have had relationships in which the sex was great, but the rest made them want to hurl. A healthy sex life makes having a fulfilling marriage easier. But a fulfilling marriage is more than possible without constant sex.
Emotional connection is the birthplace of marital fulfillment. Think of the five moments you felt most emotionally connected to your spouse. In how many of those memories were you f*cking? Exactly.
Don’t stress yourself out about how often you bonk if less-than-regular sex works for both of you.
If a period of less sexing is good for your relationship, that’s 100 percent A-OK. There’s no legally mandated amount of sex you should have. So, avoid comparing yourself with other couples, and communicate to work out what makes both of you happy.
Will a sexless marriage always lead to divorce?
A sexless marriage ≠ divorce. Many happily married couples never have sex.
However, a relationship becoming sexless is a possible sign of a marriage decline, especially in heteronormative relationships when celibacy is less common.
Sexless marriage isn’t a problem if both partners are on the same page. But if one partner does yearn for hanky-panky, it can create resentment and form cracks in the foundation.
Clear communication can help you get through these periods. An awkward conversation today is better than an awkward year of feeling sh*tty and hiding how you feel.
Not f*cking today could mean better f*cking tomorrow
It may sometimes be better not to have sex. Sex isn’t always a positive experience, even in a healthy, trusting marriage.
If you’re in a place where you think sex would be harmful to you, express this to your spouse. The decision as a couple to abstain from sex so that you can preserve your health and happiness is a sign of emotional maturity and a deep, meaningful bond.
There’s a load of situations in which not having sex can bring you closer together.
Physical pain and discomfort may be a factor. Chronic pain and ongoing health conditions can make the idea of frequent or regular sexual activity problematic for many couples.
(Bear in mind that sex does not mean penetration. Oral sex or mutual masturbation can help you feel just as close and connected if the alternative is going to be painful or awkward. Explore each other and find your boundaries.)
Emotional and mental health difficulties due to previous trauma can also mean that consistent sexual activity is difficult (or impossible) for some folks.
Married relationships involve understanding your partner’s history and loving the person that the history shaped. Sex is secondary.
Some married couples deliberately abstain from sex altogether. For them, marriage is about connecting on platonic levels and focusing on the other aspects of the relationship. For others, a hiatus makes sex more fiery when they finally get back on it.
Kids, eh? They’ve got a lot of cheek constantly getting in the way of your sex life when that’s the only reason they’re even here. (Unless you adopted them, but still. The nerve.)
They don’t have to be insert-relevant-genitalia-blocks for you, though. Scheduling and communication make sneaking in the naked snuggles way easier.
Kids are a massive time suck. When they’re awake, you’re theirs to command. By the time they’re in bed, you’ve usually come down with a bad case of the CBAs. Tiredness very often contributes to parent-flavored marital sexlessness.
Maintaining the spark post-procreation means being able to account for this and adjust accordingly.
Schedule sex for when the kids are out the house. If they’re too young to be anywhere without an adult, palm them off on any one of the gullible folks in your phone book (hope you like stepping on Lego, suckers).
You give your kids your whole life. Take a chunk of time for yourselves on date night.
Why should you put in the work? Because (hot take alert) married sex can be better than single sex.
Married sex is the sh*t. You and your partner learn each other’s bodies better with each passing year. The “separate single beds” trope of 1950s sitcoms is a dumpster fire of a stereotype that doesn’t apply to real life at all.
Not only can committed sex be more enjoyable and less awks than casual flings, but it’s uniquely meaningful. You deserve the occasional break from building a life together.
Keeping your sex life active during a marriage takes work. But so does picking up a stranger in a bar. The difference between them is the long-term emotional payoff. In marriage, sex becomes more than self-affirmation or orgasm hunting.
It forms a key part of a happier future for you and the most significant person you’ll ever meet.