Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/24/2021
Relationships are never perfect, and to prove that, you need look no further than the bedroom.
While most couples would have you believe their problems are few and far between, the fact is that all couples have their relationship issues.
Sexual Intimacy changes. Partners can be stressed, overwhelmed, dealing with problems at work or with family. Life events, having children and the passage of time can change what sexual intimacy looks like in any bedroom, and sometimes the result of those changes is less frequent sex — or none altogether.
We all experience a dry spell from time to time. But just because it’s a fairly normal occurrence for people in both short-term and long-term relationships doesn’t mean it should be ignored. The best way to solve a problem is to address it, after all.
Before you go breaking out the bedroom games or pressuring your partner, there are some things you should know about sex in relationships that may put your problems into context.
Because everyone worries about being “normal,” here are some things about sex in a normal or average sex life you should understand.
A recent study looked at sexual frequency in men and found that more than 15 percent of men aged 18 to 89 had not had sex in the past year, and more than eight percent had not had sex in five or more years.
Interestingly enough, the study suggested that there was little difference between the numbers for men in a relationship, and men who’d been separated, divorced or never married.
In other words, there’s a not insignificant portion of the population experiencing low frequency of sex in relationships.
There were a variety of causes listed in these studies, but blame and problematic communication patterns, entitlement, doubt and conflation of love and sex were reported as the main reasons for men.
For women, anxiety, feelings of abnormality and obligation were the common experiences.
In other words, both men and women put a lot of pressure on sexual activity, and interpret the expectations of their partner (as well as larger social expectations) as the problems, and failed to communicate effectively to address the problem — and the negative effects of these issues hit us where it hurts.
Here’s a potentially simple question: why is your sex life lacking these days? Do you know? Have you asked your partner?
Sexual satisfaction and communication are deeply linked qualities, and research has shown a deep link between poor communication and physical intimacy problems.
Communication, of course, is not so simple, particularly when you consider the stakes and concerns mentioned above.
But communicating is nevertheless something that shouldn’t be ignored.
Research, including a 2018 study, continues to find significant links between satisfaction (defined as orgasm frequency) and communication. Communication has crucial implications for satisfaction in committed relationships.
Communication isn’t just about pleasure — it can also be crucial for avoiding the wrong kind of sexual pain. We’re not talking about candle wax or the occasional spanking.
We’re talking about a condition called dyspareunia, which is essentially an all-inclusive name for pain during sex, and one that requires lubrication, sufficient arousal, communication and emotional intimacy to cope with effectively (and you’ll likely need all of these things at the same time).
Okay, so you understand that communication is important now. But how do you apply that to your current situation, and start correcting course?
Well, it’s not easy. Communication may not be the end-all-be-all for all your bedroom problems, but it’s a solid starting point.
Here are some additional ways to keep the conversation moving forward and turn it into actionable results:
We’re not talking about roleplay here.
While you may want to jump back into the sheets, it’s important that you take this momentum and apply it to learning more about what “good sex” means for both you and your partner.
Exploring sex through reading, videos and other media can help people in intimate relationships address topics of fear, conflict and uncertainty with less conflict, and help normalize what might otherwise have been very embarrassing concerns.
Sharing articles, reading passages and materials aloud or just forwarding them to your partner can foster communication and make taboos well... less taboo.
You may want to focus on getting in better shape, but the kind of exercise we’re talking about isn’t exactly a bench press. Kegels are arguably the best exercise for improving or maintaining sexual endurance, and yes, men can do them too.
With kegels, you’re essentially flexing the muscles you would use to stop urinating. The goal is to clench them for two to three seconds, for 10 reps (or whatever’s comfortable for you).
Experts recommend approximately five sets per day. And the good news is that you can do them anywhere.
We have more kegel pro-tips in our guide, Kegels Are The Workout You’ve Been Missing (they are).
You don’t need to have a decade of yoga under your belt to try new positions. While some of the magazines would have you believe the best positions require double jointed limbs, finding the right position for your pleasure or your partner’s might be as simple as changing who’s on top.
Different positions provide different sensations for both partners, and they may stimulate different erogenous zones, like the G-spot and prostate. Part of the excitement is exploring — don’t worry if something doesn’t feel great. Worry about finding what feels incredible.
There’s certainly a stigma for heterosexual men using toys to help their partners climax, but the stigma is profoundly wrong.
These days, sex toys (like this penis vibrator) are for both partners’ increased pleasure. You can think of sex toys as added tools in the box, not silicone competition.
Combining the things you already do with a little extra support may help your partner achieve orgasm more quickly, easily or intensely. It’s like having a really great wingman.
Remember what we said about communication? Well, this applies to fantasies, too.
Communicating that thing you’ve never spoken of to your partner takes a lot of trust, but it also displays a lot of trust, which may signal to them that you’re offering a deeper connection.
They may not be into your kink, but you may be surprised.
If the idea of confessing your desires causes you anxiety, consider relying on media for help. A movie scene, a clip from your favorite PornHub channel or even a little erotica might help them see things the way you do.
If nothing else, it’ll give you and your partner the framework for how to ask for things you want.
It’s important to remember that both you and your partner have wants and needs, and it’s important to remember that both of you should be getting something out of these exchanges.
Your partner may have more difficulty communicating their needs, or may need more time to open up generally. Remembering to have patience and compassion is crucial.
This also means that, from time to time, you may just have to understand they’re not in the mood. This happens normally, and as we age, declining hormone levels can reduce function and efficiency for both partners.
Aging isn’t the only factor to consider. Anxiety and depression can hinder function, deplete your sex drive and undermine your sexual desire. It’s important to remember that neither of you are machines and both of you have needs — and not all of them are sexual.
Compassion and communication (they keep coming up, don’t they?) are paramount for making these less-than-ideal situations end happily, and they’re essential if one or both partners are dealing with issues like performance anxiety.
For many men, the elephant in the room isn’t a partner’s “mood” or the ability to ask for particular fantasies — it’s sexual dysfunction.
If you’re experiencing these issues, it may be time to talk to a healthcare professional.
There are a variety of treatments, techniques and therapies available to men suffering from PE or ED, (the recurring inability to achieve or maintain an erection).
Likewise, there is plenty of support for anyone struggling with desire disorders that may be keeping them from having the sex life they want.
But not addressing the problem won’t make it better — it might make things worse.
Men with ED can lose interest in sexual activity, and some will choose that option over getting help, if only to avoid further embarrassment.
The same goes for premature ejaculation (ejaculating before orgasm or before penetration), which can both feel embarrassing and cause men to become avoidant of sex and confronting to the problem.
Don’t be that guy. Get yourself the help you deserve.
That help may look different depending on your needs. A healthcare professional may recommend treatments, including SSRIs and numbing agents for PE.
Medications like Viagra® (sildenafil), Cialis® (tadalafil) and other PDE5 inhibitors are proven effective at treating ED, and in addition to lifestyle changes, they may be the most safe and effective way to address problems.
At the end of the day, a good sex life may mean different things to different people. It’s up to you and your partner to define what that looks like — not society, and not each of you individually.
Every person may have different expectations when it comes to frequency, positions, preparation, etc. The important thing is to create a space where your partner feels comfortable sharing these things with you, and you with them.
Good sex starts with effective communication, and part of that communication is asking for help and support when you need it. But that burden doesn’t have to be placed entirely on your partner’s shoulders, either.
If things are feeling a little stale in the bedroom, there are plenty of ways around it.