Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: What Sex in Committed Relationships Is Really Like

There was a plea on Vogue.com the other day for people in committed relationships to be more revealing and forthcoming about what sex in their relationships is like. “Our reluctance to talk honestly about sex in committed relationships can reinforce problematic myths,” the Vogue writer argued. “There is a lot of information about dating, but there are fewer places where I can learn to be in a happy marriage, perhaps because of the false assumption that marriage indicates that every battle has been won already.”
Of course, the writer didn’t offer much to support or negate that assumption or to teach anything about a happy marriage. “As a writer, I’ve always been careful in telling other people’s stories without their consent, and sharing intimate details of my partner feels in the same vein,” she shared. Womp, womp.

Well, fine, I’ll go. I mean, I’m not going to share intimate details of my sex life with my husband, but I will say this: marriage is not the end of challenges or the absence of battles. I love being married, but I don’t think it’s the reward for winning something. If anything, it’s another level — not even necessarily an upward level — of navigating the world. Sometimes I feel better at marriage than other times (and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the times I’m feeling “better” at being married are times that we’re more regularly intimate). Like any married couple, there are periods when sex happens more frequently and there are periodic dry spells.

In my mind, there’s a time limit for a “dry spell” and that has helped me a lot to keep things on track and not get too lazy. Once we hit that limit (for me it’s three weeks though I can’t say for certain whether that’s the same for my husband), we have to do it no matter how tired we might be. In my mind, once you let three weeks pass — and I realize for someone else it might be three days and for someone else it might be three months — you’re in a “danger zone” where it’s easy to slip into total complacency and let another three weeks pass and then another and another and then you’re basically in a sexless relationship and everything goes to shit. I don’t want everything to go to shit.

So, if you’re in a long-term committed relationship and willing to share some of the details, I’m curious: what’s “regular” for you? Do you have dry spells and how long do they last? Are you completely monogamous or do you have an open relationship? What do you do or what have you tried to “keep the spark alive”? Do you check in with your partner on a regular or semi-regular basis about what’s working, what’s not, what you need, what he/she needs, and whether you want to try something new? Inquiring minds want to know…

35 comments… add one
  • avatar

    girltuesday October 18, 2017, 1:41 pm

    I’m so glad this topic has come up because I don’t have anyone IRL to talk about it with. I’m pretty private about sex, but feel comfortable talking to internet strangers. Is that weird?

    OK, when my SO and I first got together, it was like twice a week (we didn’t live together and basically did it on weekend). We moved in together and it basically stayed the same.

    Now, we’ve been together for 3 years and have recently gone through a weird dry spell. It’s a mix of a painful ovarian cyst I have that likes to pop up and terrorize me for 3 weeks, my weird Nexplanon bleeding, and another health issue I’ve gone through. Paired with him working evenings and not getting to bed until 11pm where I’m already sleeping. :/ The longest we went was 4 weeks and it felt like FOREVER.

    When we do have sex, it’s good and not forced. I just wish it was more often. I feel like we are getting in a bit of a rut and I’m trying to take some household burden off of him while he works and he’s been understanding of my health. We’ve been open about this dry spell with each other and both desire the same thing and are both on the same page, so it’s not the worst thing in the world. Hoping we can get back on track soon with a vacation planned!

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    m0lab0 October 18, 2017, 1:57 pm

    I’ve been with my husband for almost fourteen years (no children) and we began dating as teens, so our sex life has evolved and transitioned a lot over the years as we’ve gotten older and gone from a long distance relationship in college –> living together –> getting married. At this point in our relationship, “regular” is 1-2 times a week – with regular hanky-panky sessions in between (and by that I mean general physical affection such as making out/fooling around/cuddling/showering/etc.). Some weeks we get up to 4-5 times, but usually that’s plenty for us – our dry spells have never lasted more than a month, except for when we were long distance.

    We are monogamous and have found that keeping the spark alive – especially after this many years – can sometimes feel effortless and other times require diligence and effort, depending on what’s going on in our lives at the time. We are big fans of physical affection, even if it’s just a quick butt-squeeze on our way out the door, and also find that our busy schedules/relatively separate social lives can heighten anticipation and make us more eager to be intimate. Dirty snaps, suggestive texts, and sweet emails are things we do fairly often.

    Our biggest challenge has been avoiding falling into ruts – we know just what we like and how exactly to do it by now, so we have to make a conscious effort at times to think outside the box, talk about new or old desires, and introduce fresh things…but this has actually gotten easier (and funner) the older we get and the more we get to know ourselves as individuals and as sexual partners. Instead of looking at long-term monogamy as a death sentence or a fire that will eventually burn out, we try to see it as an awesome opportunity to explore new depths of intimacy and pleasure with the person we love and trust most in the world; although that’s not to say monogamy is always easy or that we always feel that way about it – but in general we find that our sex life is the best when we don’t overthink it and let it be a fun, flexible expression of our emotions.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy October 18, 2017, 2:12 pm

      I was reading along and was like, “Wow, you manage 1-2 times a week AND “hanky pinky” in between and you have children?” And then I saw that you actually wrote you have no children. That makes me feel a little better. 😉

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      • avatar

        m0lab0 October 18, 2017, 2:20 pm

        Ha! I actually went back and made sure to add that we don’t have kids yet for that exact reason! Kids are tentatively in our future plans so we do try to take advantage of our status as a “duo” who can indulge in hanky-panky whenever the mood strikes while we still can.

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    • TaraMonster

      TaraMonster October 18, 2017, 2:28 pm

      I love your last paragraph. It’s such a good outlook to have and a relief to hear. There’s this cultural attitude that you should basically expect sex to dry up/get boring once you’re married and I have definitely internalized this narrative into a slight fear of marriage. I’m pretty sex-postive, but even so this irrational fear nags at me! Especially lately since marriage is on the horizon.

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      • avatar

        m0lab0 October 18, 2017, 2:54 pm

        I totally know what you mean — for me, I’ve really internalized the narrative that our relationship/sex life will just rot on the vine as soon as we have kids, which has definitely played a part in us delaying that decision. I feel like I’m constantly seeking out advice from couples with children who don’t seem like they’re on the brink of imploding or have found ways to connect/be individuals outside of their roles as mom and dad, because most of what I hear from my friends who are parents about their marriage/sex life/happiness levels sounds really depressing and scary.

        Also, I hope I didn’t make our sex life seem like it’s all sunshine and rainbows – in our fourteen years, we’ve had our fair share of struggles and obstacles with intimacy, which I think is why we’ve reached such a good place now.

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      • TaraMonster

        TaraMonster October 18, 2017, 4:07 pm

        You made it seem realistic and attainable with effort. That’s what made me feel relieved! 🙂

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    • Lianne

      Lianne October 19, 2017, 8:41 am

      I am impressed with your frequency – kids or no! – and with your commitment to keeping the spark alive in new and exciting ways, even though the quick way to climax is right there in front of you.

      I can say, having just one child, our sex life hasn’t dried up at all. In fact we still manage to be intimate 1-2 times a week. The longest dry spell we’ve had is 6 weeks, but that was because I was post-partum. And we found other ways to be intimate in that time, so I don’t even consider it a real dry spell. Some of my friends, who’ve been with their partners longer (our relationship is just over five years old), both with and without kids, have told me that we will hit a point where sex is less frequent. But I just don’t buy it. It’s important to us both to connect in that way at least one time per week. In those moments it’s just about us and that’s so special when there are a million things to worry about for our son, as well as the other day to day bullshit that crops up.

      Given your current propensity to maintain a fun, healthy sex life in the way you do now, I wouldn’t worry too much about how kids will impact that. It’s just another factor in putting in the effort!

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  • TaraMonster

    TaraMonster October 18, 2017, 2:08 pm

    I have always felt strongly that taboos around female sexuality are a large part of the reason so many women are unsatisfied sexually. So I am *that* friend who always wants to chat about this lol. Most of my friends are more than willing to share. Some, of course, are a touch more conservative and more easily TMI’d, but it’s also been those friends who have been the ones to reveal to me in whispers that they’re unsatisfied with their sex lives. Sigh.

    I actually have sort of the same philosophy as Wendy- there’s a time threshold past which I start to feel the lack of intimacy like an itch. Intimacy has always been super important to me for keeping connected to my partner, and when we are in a dry spell it definitely has an effect on the “feel” of our relationship. My threshold is about 2 weeks (monogamous LTR of 3 years), although we’ve def gone longer due to traveling and illnesses. My happy place is 2-3x a week. For my boyfriend, it would be 1-2x a day- Seriously! How common is this? In past relationships, I’ve been the one with the higher libido and it is actually a super strange experience.

    As for keeping the spark alive- I swear by sexting. It doesn’t have to be pictures or even particularly graphic; just that affirmation that you’re thinking about last night/Saturday *wink* and can’t wait for them to come home is enough euphemism. Sexting used to make me so uncomfortable, until I was in an LDR and I got over that right quick. My boyfriend will regularly message me risky things during the day and we send each other links to articles about things we want to try, and then go over them while lounging in bed later. We talk about our sex life a lot. Going on dates and taking vacations/weekends away are great too, but that is good relationship medicine overall if you can swing it.

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    • avatar

      girltuesday October 18, 2017, 2:18 pm

      These are good ideas. I’m glad you brought this up. I’m incredibly shy about my sexuality and I don’t really know why. I wasn’t raised religious or anything like that. I should probably explore that more.

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      • TaraMonster

        TaraMonster October 18, 2017, 5:53 pm

        I found that once I got past the initial awkwardness of sexting it, it was much smoother sailing. Sharing articles might be a good way to start small. Because the ideas aren’t your own, you can couch it in a general discussion and be like “What do you think about this?”

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    Kate October 18, 2017, 2:28 pm

    What makes it work for us is, first of all, no kids, but also being on the same page as far as frequency. We both get tired and cranky, but we’re on the same wavelength as far as, “we need to bang tomorrow!” So we’ve never had a dry spell in terms of no action for a while. It’s held pretty steady through 4 years of marriage, though there are weeks when it might only be once because we’ve got too much bullshit going on. I was previously in a sexless relationship and it really messed with me, so I’m very conscious of making sure that never happens again.

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  • avatar

    Northern Star October 18, 2017, 3:31 pm

    I’ve been married for less than a year (committed and monogamous for 2.5 years), and but: I definitely agree with the importance of avoiding dry spells. For me, going five days without is too long. I’m happy and satisfied with sex every other day, and I get grumpy if the lag stretches to a week for no real reason (it feels like rejection). I imagine with kids it will be very different—but who knows?

    We always kiss goodbye and good night. That helps keep us connected, too. That and plenty of random butt grabs…

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  • avatar

    ann on October 18, 2017, 4:04 pm

    My bf of nearly a year and i rarely have (or create?) opportunities for sexy fun times. We live separately and both have kids. There is usually one night a week when we are both free but it’s almost so expected to spend it getting down that it almost feels like a “have to” and less of a “woohoo” and sometimes it’s just nice to hang out. We are looking to make our relationship more official within the next year or so and i’m hoping that leads to increased good times. Hope that isn’t too foolish of a hope.

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  • avatar

    Stillrunning October 18, 2017, 4:24 pm

    We’ve been married for 23 years. Our relationship was pretty passionate for a long time, even with raising teenagers, BUT, once menopause hit, it was like a switch was thrown and I completely forgot about sex. My husband is more interested, so I’m there for him, but it’s just not the priority it once was.

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      carolann October 19, 2017, 4:19 am

      The same thing has recently happened to me the past few months. I still have a period, but it has started going wacky and I have no interest. I started take bio identical hormones to keep my cycle in check and my drive has gotten better, but it is nowhere near what it was. (I am 47)
      My 3 year old shadow doesn’t help. If he comes near me she squeezes in between us. We keep different schedules too and often don’t sleep at the same time, so we rarely share a bed. We have to be sneaky. Sometimes we go hide in the RV lol!

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    • avatar

      Emily October 19, 2017, 9:54 am

      I relate to this. I am not in menopause but I have def had a hormone drop off or something because at 41 I am just not that into it… but I believe sex is part of a healthy relationship so I try to “get it up” for my husband. 😉 I agree with Wendy about the three week rule, that is probably true for us although we don’t have kids either. I just honestly lie down at night and want to go to sleep. Ha.

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      • avatar

        Emily October 19, 2017, 9:56 am

        Oh and also we’ve been together almost 13 years. Time is definitely a factor or has been for me. Has everyone watched TOGETHERNESS? I really liked how they talked about sex in long term relationships. Okay they ended up cheating on each other which isn’t ideal but still a good story.

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      • avatar

        mcj2012 October 19, 2017, 11:40 am

        I’m with you – our baseline is about 1/2 times weekly when i’m not super hormonal. BUT right before my period I’d like not to be touched and that extends to the period, which is abnormally long.

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        carolann October 20, 2017, 2:03 am

        I guess I was lucky because mine didn’t really start to drop off until recently, but it seemed to happen overnight. Maca and vitex have really helped and I take natural (wild yam) cream 14 days out if the month. At least now my periods are regular again. I kinda went off topic, but when my cycle got so wacky I was so not in the mood. Now it is better. I thought of going through the doc and getting testosterone cream (I heard it works) but then I went to a drug review site and many if the woman who tried it said it was awful. You have to be really careful with that stuff too… don’t want to grow a beard!
        Next I will have my hormone levels checked.

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  • avatar

    Kate B. October 18, 2017, 7:18 pm

    I’ve been in a committed relationship with one man for over 8 years now. I think we both have fairly low libidos, in that we are both OK having sex once every one to two weeks. If it gets to be a month, I also start to get nervous; I usually just miss the intimacy, more than feeling horny. I go through waves of wanting sex more frequently (when I’m feeling hornier for some reason – probably connected to hormones) and then other periods where I all I want to do is cuddle in bed at the most.

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  • avatar

    Vathena October 18, 2017, 8:09 pm

    I’ve been with my husband for 11 years, married for 7, and we have a four-year-old. Our baseline is about once a week, adjusted for work travel and health stuff (having a bad cold is not a turn-on for me!) Two-plus weeks of being in the same place with no sex is the danger zone. I agree with others above; it’s more about feeling connected than it is actually being horny for me. It’s a bummer that with our schedules and having a kid, the only time of day that’s really available for sex is late at night, which is a time that I’m just ready for sleep and not really in the mood. I’m much more into morning or late-afternoon sex, but I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve been able to make that happen since 2013! I’m sure as our daughter gets older it will start to happen more often. And definitely the first year of motherhood tanked my libido. Hormone changes meant that sex wasn’t comfortable, and I was breastfeeding/pumping so I would sometimes leak in a very unsexy and distracting way. And if he even so much as looked at my boobs, it was an instant ladyboner-killer. Plus I was fricking TIRED!

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    • avatar

      carolann October 20, 2017, 2:08 am

      I prefer morning/afternoon too. I am way too spent at bedtime and my 3 year old is always trying to sleep in my bed. She plays with my hair when she is falling asleep and it is the most relaxing thing ever. I guess I don’t mind. She is my last baby, so I am enjoying it.

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  • MaterialsGirl

    MaterialsGirl October 18, 2017, 9:43 pm

    I’m definitely a believer of if you don’t use it you lose it. So no matter where I am if it’s been over a week which rarely gets to be I’m getting anxious and know that I need to commit to this. Obviously we don’t have kids yet so I’m sure that will push out the anxiety point but it’s good to know that other people are like I am. I travel a lot for work so that also has something to do with it.

    My ex-husband, Senor douche bag, would sleep-sex me all the time. So I am definitely wary of forced sex situations but feel like I have a better grasp on relationship maintenance

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    • avatar

      carolann October 20, 2017, 2:12 am

      That is the creepiest thing ever! My ex husband did that to me a few times too. It was a really long time ago and we weren’t married long. I don’t really remember what our sex life was like,(I guess I have blocked it out thank god. He was a super abusive a-hole) just the ick factor. I need a bath just thinking about it.

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  • avatar

    Ange October 18, 2017, 9:46 pm

    Six years in and we’re 2-3x a week people but we have stretches as well, usually when one of us is travelling for work or I’ve injured myself somehow (it’s crazy how often that happens). I do find I go through phases where it feels like the same old same old and they coincide with a dry spell so I know to watch for that.

    My husband is far more physically affectionate than I am which helps too, otherwise I could easily slip into ‘two bros who share a house’ mode.

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  • becboo84

    becboo84 October 19, 2017, 8:41 am

    Married almost 11 years, together for almost 13 (since we were both 20) and have two kids, ages just turned 9 and 4.5. 1-2 times per week is average, although there have definitely been prolonged dry stretches (lots of work travel, plus no family nearby, plus a 4.5 year old who still doesn’t sleep through the night), but there are also periods were 3-4 times per week is more average.

    One of our favorite things to do to get “couple time” is to get the kids to bed a bit earlier than usual on Sundays, order to go from a nearby restaurant, and have a little “date night” at home.

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  • avatar

    Emily October 19, 2017, 9:58 am

    Does anyone have a sex schedule? I have thought about doing that but haven’t as of yet. Sometimes I think maybe saying WEDNESDAYS ARE FOR SEX would be something that would be a good thing…

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    • becboo84

      becboo84 October 19, 2017, 3:34 pm

      We have never used a firm schedule, but if it’s been awhile, I will definitely state loud and clear that tonight’s a frisky night, so he should go ahead and add it to his daily calendar 😉

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      SpaceySteph October 19, 2017, 3:41 pm

      I would be down for it but my husband thinks it’s weird.
      I’m just kind of a planner by nature and so I kinda plan it anyways. I’ll like look ahead in the week what night we’ll be home early from work, which night are we cooking something easy. And then I’ll kinda tentatively plan to myself that that would be a good sex night, but then also the baby has to go down easy and no unexpected mishaps so that there’s time. Then if all goes according to plan I’ll initiate (sometimes I do it sneakily so he thinks it’s his idea). I don’t think he realizes that I decided a couple days ago we’d probably do it that night because I never announce it but I do plan my day around it.

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    • avatar

      carolann October 20, 2017, 2:15 am

      No, never, I like things very spontaneous. I like to ask my husband to sneak off with me when we have the chance. He gets so excited when he wasn’t expecting it.

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      MaggieB October 23, 2017, 4:32 pm

      My informal schedule is “once every day and a half” (so Sunday night, Tuesday morning, Thursday night, etc.), plus more on weekends, and a break when I’m on my period. The morning sex is usually quicker and lazier, and the night sex is more inspired–there’s a place for both styles in my view.

      That frequency is mostly in my own head, but my husband’s heard about it, and it seems to be pretty mutually satisfactory. If things happen differently spontaneously, though, that’s great.

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  • avatar

    K October 19, 2017, 11:38 am

    We’ve been together 3.5 years and had been averaging once a week, but he got Lyme over the summer and his libido dropped. We went a few weeks without sex during that time. We still haven’t gotten back into the swing of things and have been doing it about every 3 weeks. Really hoping we can get back to where we were, soon!

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    Bossy Italian Wife October 19, 2017, 12:31 pm

    I’ve been with my husband for 14 years (7.5 of those married years.) We have a 3 year old child, and busy schedules but we enjoy sex about 1-2 times a week. For me, if it’s nearing two weeks, it’s time to check in.

    We have a very strong attraction to one another and to keep things fresh we try to be unpredictable. My hubby doesn’t enjoy “planned” trysts, so we try to keep it unplanned as possible, which I think keeps it fun. We are very open about sex from a communication standpoint, which I feel has worked really for us.

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    TheHizzy October 19, 2017, 12:46 pm

    I’m new to the relationship game so I’m curious to see how it changes over time.
    When we were LDR we did the usual phone/sexting and then in person any down time without his kids we were at it like rabbits. Now that he lives here it’s like 3 times a week or more or we get out of wack. My surgery has really thrown it all for a loop. We are still loving, and intimate in other ways, but a lot has been put on hold until I get a “you’re clear to have sex again.” Fun fact – while recovering I’m learning how my muscles down THERE are related to the muscles in my back.

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