One of the most common reasons that new clients reach out to me is because they want to “spice up” their sex life. They’ve often “been together for a while” and the “magic is starting to fade.” They want to know if I can teach them any tricks for reigniting that spark. And, while I can definitely teach you plenty of tricks to start your sexual engine, let’s start by getting your car out of the driveway.
When we enter a new relationship, our body starts pumping out lots of different hormones that fuel our desire. This hormone cocktail, (aka: New Relationship Energy or NRE) makes us feel like we’re driving a lust-fueled Ferrari. And, it can last anywhere from 3 months to 3 years. When we eventually get used to that feeling (it’s not “wearing-off”), it can seem impossible to get the engine to turn over again at all. And, when this happens, folks often mistake this perceived drop in desire as a signal that there’s something wrong. But, before you determine that your car is totaled and start shopping for a newer model, let us help you get back on the road and well on your way to Pleasure Town.
Tips for Adding Spice to Your Sex Life
People commonly use the words “libido” and “arousal” interchangeably. However, while they might be related, they aren’t exactly the same thing. Libido – or desire – is what we call the processes inside you that tell you you’re DTF (down to fuck). Your desire can have a target, like that hot barista you see every morning. Or, your desire can just be plain desire.
Have you ever found yourself feeling like you just NEED to get laid? That sexual “craving” is your desire and it’s best explained by the Dual Control Model.
What is the Dual Control Model?
According to the Dual Control Model, you have two systems at play in your body and brain at all times:
- The Sexual Excitation System (SES), and
- The Sexual Inhibition System (SIS).
Dr. Emily Nagoski brilliantly describes this as the Gas (SES) and the Brakes (SIS). I think it’s such a good analogy that I’m going to do the same here.
Every moment that you’re awake, your brain is processing information in your environment and making decisions about it. Some cues in your environment (e.g., hot barista) are like a foot on your Gas pedal. Other cues in your environment (e.g., she just told you about her new, monogamous, girlfriend) are like a foot on your Brake pedal. And, any number of things can rev up your engine or pump your brakes.
This is why learning which is which for you can be helpful for getting out of the sexual driveway. When the foot on the Gas is heavier than the foot on the Brakes, your brain sends signals that indicate a time for sexual excitement. This is called “arousal.”
Understanding Desire, Arousal, and Your Sex Life
Desire and arousal don’t have a formula or cheat sheet, because they don’t happen in neat, effortless steps. According to Rosemary Basson, this process is a bit more complicated than all that. Some folks feel like they have a heavy foot on the Gas all the time and they are very easily aroused. Others feel like they have a heavy foot on the Brakes and it takes them a lot longer to become aroused. Or, they find they can only become aroused under special circumstances. Still, others find they’re a little of both. Some days it’s very easy to become aroused and others, they need to work at it a bit more. Knowing which one of those you are, and identifying your “Gas” cues and “Brakes” cues can revolutionize your sex life.
When most people feel like they’re stuck, they start banging on that Gas pedal, looking for more things to get their motor running. But, you can floor the Gas, and it won’t do a bit of good if you’ve got a brick on the Brakes. Research has shown that it’s more beneficial for your sex life to focus on the things slowing you down than it is to simply add more to your sexual to-do list. Things that can activate our Brakes range from:
- Very Severe: Think trauma in our past or chronic pain/illness
- Moderate: Stressors like exhaustion, temporary pain or illness, emotional distress
- Minor: An imbalanced diet/exercise routine, distraction, a need for sleep
How to Make Sure Your Sex Life is Balanced
If you’re struggling to find balance in your sex life, and find that you’re hitting the brakes far more than the gas, try asking yourself some questions. Inner exploration can be one of the best ways for getting your sex life out of a rut and back on track. Here are the top four questions to ask.
Am I Taking Care of Myself?
If you’re not hydrating, eating well, or getting enough sleep, life can feel like driving a car through mud. In those situations, sex is the last thing on your body’s “to-to list.” This is where it’s vital to practice some self-care. One of the best kinds of self-care is to focus on doing things that make you feel calm and attractive.
Try buying a new pair of undies that fit you just right and show off that bodacious booty.
Take a warm shower and get yourself feeling fresh and clean.
Put fresh sheets on the bed.
Do something for you.
Am I Too Distracted for Sex?
It can feel impossible to get in the mood if all you’re doing is running through a mental to-do list all day long. Instead of hustling and bustling all day long, find one chore that drives you crazy and take care of it. This way, you feel like you’ve accomplished something meaningful. And, believe it or not, this approach can work wonders to soothe some of that low-level anxiety.
Then, focus on your bedroom. Make it a space where that to-do list isn’t allowed, and organize the area so you don’t find yourself thinking about it. Clear the space around your bed. Put your clothes away, tidy up that pile of nonsense from your emptied pockets, and put your shoes in the closet.
Turn off your phone, especially during bedroom time. Instead, try turning on some music you love or even some porn that gets you in the mood. If all else fails, I tell clients and students that I think the best sex toy in the world is a blindfold. It forces you to close your eyes and heightens other senses like smell, taste, and touch. It brings you present to what’s happening right at this moment and helps you pay attention to the Gas pedal cues instead of the Brakes cues.
Am I Trying too Hard to Orgasm?
Performance anxiety can bring your car to a screeching, grinding halt. If all you’re doing is focusing on climax as your destination, you’ll miss all the fun there is to be had along the way. Let your sexual journey, both in the bedroom and out of it, take some natural twists and turns. Redefine “sex” as something more than banging away toward that big “O”. In fact, take orgasm off the table for a while. Tease each other. Bring the sexting back. Rediscover your good ol’ days of making out, dry humping on the couch, flirting and fingering, and going almost all the way.
Am I Taking Sex Too Seriously?
At the end of it all, it is vital to cut yourself some slack. Relationships go through natural peaks and valleys. It’s totally normal to have periods of time where you can’t keep your hands off each other and periods of time where passionate love gives way to companionate love. That doesn’t mean you’ll never feel passionate, lusty feelings about each other again. It means that lust will come from different things and in diverse ways as you grow and change.
If it still feels like one or both of you have a lead foot on the brakes, reach out to a sex educator or sex coach who can help you discover the unique challenges you’re facing and come up with a game plan to start cruising along again. Or, if your problems are more chronic or severe, an educator or coach can help you find a sex-positive, queer inclusive, kink and poly informed therapist. To simply find out more about desire, arousal, and how these processes work for you, the SwingTowns blog is a great place to get started.