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Sex: What if you want different things?

When it comes to sex, what we want and enjoy can change over the course of a relationship and leave you out of sync. Read more about how to navigate this.

The Enduring Love? research project showed that the types and amount of intimacy that individuals and couples enjoy can be different. It also showed that our levels of desire and what we enjoy are almost guaranteed to change over the course of a relationship.

In fact, every couple who took part in the Enduring Love? research project said their physical intimacy had shifted and changed over time. But what if you want different things at different times?

SHared and separate desires

It’s not helpful to assume that you and your partner have exactly the same desires. It’s much more useful to start from the position that you’ll share some desires but not others. 

It can be useful to map out the things you like to do together and separately which can help spark a conversation about whether it’s important for you to get some of your separate desires met. If so, how might you do that within the rules of your relationship?

Here are a few other exercises that may help you and you partner understand the types of physical intimacy that work for your relationship.

  • Think about how important – if at all – sex is to you. What kinds of sex, if any, do you really enjoy? What is the meaning of sex for you? What things are important for you to have in a sexual experience? Which less so?  
  • Think about which kinds of physical intimacy you and your partner both enjoy. It could be cuddling on the sofa, sharing a bath or enjoying a back rub. Make time to do those things together. Or just have a conversation about what kind of physical contact you both like and don’t like. 
  • Write a paragraph about some sexual activity or physical intimacy that you’ve found really fulfilling. Then write another about something that didn’t feel fulfilling at all. Compare your descriptions of the two times. What are the key things that make sex and/or physical intimacy fulfilling for you? 

Changes over time

Every couple who took part in the Enduring Love? research project said their physical intimacy had shifted and changed over the years. A decline was connected with factors such as bodily changes caused by illness and a common theme was the arrival of children. But it also highlighted that in later years, some couples found they were having a lot more sex – as the stress of work reduced and children flew the nest.

But whatever your age, and however long you’ve been together, changes in a physical relationship are not uncommon.

We may not want sex as much as we used to. Or we may want to try something different. There may be things we enjoy that we’ve never told our partner about or things that simply aren’t working for us anymore. Other things can have a bearing too, such as anxiety, stress or illness, or a major life event such as losing your job or bereavement.

Whatever the reason, it’s important not to just soldier on if things aren’t working for you anymore. This will just make matters worse. Talk to your partner and explain how you are feeling. It’s not always easy to talk about intimate things, but bit of patience and understanding on both sides can really help.

Humour was also highlighted as being really important when couples were asked about intimacy in Enduring Love?, which described it as ‘a vital form of relationship glue’. After all, it indicates a level of comfort with each other that goes deeper than sex.


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