~ It almost seems like a truism these days that sexual boredom is inevitable in long-term romantic relationships. It is a fact that sexual frequency incrementally declines in long-term relationships. Some couples just stop having sex with each other while other couples still have sex, but it becomes a chore. Obtaining sufficient arousal to achieve an orgasm may be difficult. The usual recommendations are to somehow find ways to spice up a couple’s sex life to overcome the sexual boredom of having sex with the same person in exactly the same way year after and decade after decade.
Within the bounds of a monogamous relationship spicing up a couple’s sex life might mean experimenting with different sexual positions or practices to introduce some sexual variety. Doing something kinky or forbidden can add the thrill of doing something transgressive. Of course, for some people the sexual novelty sought is not necessarily to enjoy a variety of positions and practices with the same person but to engage in the same old positions and practices but with a variety of different sexual partners. Infidelity or some variety of consensual nonmonogamy allows for the thrill of having sex with new and different partners.
What if these approaches are just temporary fixes? At some point everything that what was once new and exciting can become old and repetitive. Anyone can become sexually jaded who has tried everything multiple times and starts to run out of new sources of sexual novelty and variety. At some point it can be old hat going to strip clubs, old hat picking up someone at a bar, old hat having an affair with one more colleague at work, or old hat having a passionate romance only to suffer disillusionment when the honeymoon ends. Are we doomed to be forever seeking the next new thing when it comes to sex in order to get a temporary thrill until it becomes boring through endless repetition?
The Psychology of Boredom
We usually take boredom at face value. The world around us just doesn’t seem to be sufficiently stimulating. We feel empty and life seems meaningless without something that really engages us. We want to feel passionate about whatever we are doing. We become apathetic when there is nothing that excites our attention. We can take a nap, or we might become quite agitated if we are bored with nothing to do but still wide awake. It’s torture. People often have sex when they are bored. Yet if sex is also boring, you’re screwed and might have to take drugs to escape your boredom.
Boredom is not only a feeling but also an attitude towards what’s in front of you. It’s a lack of curiosity. The curious are never bored because they can always find something interesting in what’s right in front of them. The curious, like the poet William Blake, can see a world in a grain of sand. The bored just see a grain of sand. It’s a lack of imagination. The philosopher Heraclitus who possessed imagination said that you can never step into the same river twice. In reality having sex with the same person using the same positions decade after decade is not entirely repetitive. You and your partner are forever changing. It’s not only incrementally aging bodies (some people are excited by sex with the elderly) but changing moods and personalities as life experiences alter who we are. How we feel about these changes might determine whether sex is boring or exciting.
Maybe sex remains exciting if you like the changes. Your partner’s body might become like your worn blue jeans, old and tattered but cozy and comforting. You may become more appreciative of your partner’s personality as your partner matures. You admire and trust who your partner is becoming, someone who is there for you through thick and thin. Or you become bored if you don’t like the changes. You feel disgusted by your partner’s aging body and grow only more annoyed with your partner’s irritating personality characteristics, overlooking the fact that you bring out the worst in your partner. Understandably, you don’t want to have sex with that.
Boredom is then a defensive emotion when you don’t like the changes you see. The changes disgust you, annoy you, or offend you so you shut down, detach yourself, and then feel nothing at all. You deaden yourself. Of course, if you were curious about your deeper feelings about the changes in your sex life maybe it wouldn’t be so boring. One person’s disgust is another person’s delight. What offends one person amuses another. What annoys one person excites another. Maybe you need an attitude adjustment.
The Comfort of Repetition
Another interesting thing is that many people actually enjoy endless repetition. When it comes to food, some people are foodies always on the hunt for some new taste treat at the next trendy restaurant with a celebrity chef. Yet other people know exactly what they like and are quite content to eat the same food day after day and decade after decade. Maybe it’s the same with sex. Once they find something they like they are quite content to have sex with same person doing the same old thing for the rest of their lives. For some of us, it’s the same with music. We find a type of music we like as a teenager and are quite content to listen to the same old music for the rest of our lives and if we are lucky go see one of our favorite aging rock bands play the same old hits from 50 years ago. So, it’s not always true that endless repetition inevitably leads to boredom.
The Dialectic of Stability and Change
Maybe you can enjoy sex with the same person doing exactly the same old thing decade after decade if you are lucky enough to find a partner you like with whom you engage in sexual practices you like. It’s comforting knowing that you can do this forever just like getting to eat your favorite meal forever or listen to your favorite songs forever. But as George Harrison, the former Beatle, said all good things must pass. Stability is an illusion because transience is in fact the constant. Noticing the changes and being curious about the changes, be those changes for the better or worse, is what keeps sex different and interesting. Boredom results when those changes are threatening so you just tune it out. Don’t tune it out if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life forever looking for the next new sexual thrill. Deal with the changes and see if that makes your sex life a lot more interesting.