Jan 30, 2024 - Health

Forget "the spark": The truth about long-term relationships and sex

Illustration of a burned out match match in the shape of a heart

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Unless you're talking about a campfire or stove, it's time to stop worrying about "keeping the spark alive."

Why it matters: Although pop culture and well-meaning friends may have told you that maintaining a "spark" is important for sustaining long-term romantic relationships, sex educator Emily Nagoski says that thinking is misguided.

Driving the news: Nagoski, who has bestsellers on women's sexuality and burnout, today released "Come Together," a science-backed book on intimacy in long-term marriages and partnerships.

  • She was inspired to write the book after experiencing a sexual lull with her husband, which many couples can relate to: In our high-stress lives, it's normal to take breaks from sex.

Research and data on couples who have lasting sexual connections suggests that success has much more to do with friendship and prioritizing pleasure (and not spontaneous desire).

Some of Nagoski's myth-busting tips about sexual connection:

Don't worry about the "spark" and being in the mood all the time, Nagoski says.

  • Hyperfocusing on that could actually make you less open to intimacy.
  • Instead, successful couples like and admire each other, and believe they're worth the effort of prioritizing intimacy.

Don't be afraid to talk about sex with your partner. It doesn't mean that something is wrong.

  • In fact, Nagoski says the contrary is true.
  • "The couples who have great long term sexual connections talk about sex all the time, the same way you talk about any hobby. [That's] the way you make it great," she says.
  • And note that a dry spell isn't a dysfunction or sign that your relationship lacks love, Nagoski says, but it could be an indication that it's time to assess what aspects of your life are hitting what she calls the sexual "brakes."

Be open to planning intimacy.

  • It's a misconception that scheduling sex means you don't want it enough, Nagoski says.
  • "Our lives are complicated. My calendar is packed. If I didn't put sex on the calendar, it would not happen, as it takes deliberately protecting space, time and energy to engage in this behavior," she says.

Stop worrying about what other people are doing.

  • Nagoski refuses to answer the question, "How much sex does the average couple have?" — because "it's impossible to hear the number and not judge yourself against it." Plus, that doesn't mean the sex is enjoyable, which is a much better measure of a healthy sex life.
  • But more to the point, she says: "What matters is whether or not you like the sex you are having."
  • Instead of stressing over frequency, it's better to focus on the context of when sex is desirable for you and your partner — there's a good chance you may require different ways into a lusty mood, which Nagoski explains in her book.

Bottom line: In a long-term sexual relationship, what matters is that you trust each other, decide that sex is important, and prioritize the needs of your unique relationship, Nagoski says.

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