Like other parts of your relationship, your sex life needs care and attention if you want to keep it in good condition. Relate sex therapist Denise Knowles offers some tips on keeping the passion and lust alive in your sexual relationship.
In the early days of a relationship, sex is full of discovery, intimacy and fun. But as your relationship develops and you perhaps move in together or have children, other demands of life can mean that your sex life is neglected.
"This doesn't mean you can't still have a fulfilling and desirable sex life," says Denise. "It just means you need to recognise that this is natural, and that your relationship is changing."
Talk and listen to each other
If you don't talk about it, the silence can create a distance between you. "You have to talk to each other about how you're feeling," says Denise.
"You probably talk about other important parts of your life, such as career choices and your child's school, but sex is equally important."
If you find it difficult to talk about sex, Denise suggests saying how you feel and asking how your partner feels.
For example, say: "I get the feeling you don't want to make love to me any more, and I wondered how you feel about that."
Then listen to what they say. If they're upset, give them space to think and come back to the discussion another time.
Reassure your partner that you love them and enjoy being close to them. "Your desire for sex might not be as frequent, but that doesn't mean your desire to be with that person has dwindled," says Denise.
There's more to sex than penetration
"If I ask people what makes a satisfying sex life, they usually say it's about penetrative sex and orgasms," says Denise. "But this isn't necessarily what sex and intimacy is all about."
Enjoy all the feelings of arousal with your partner, not just the orgasm. Take time to be more sensual:
- Explore each other's bodies.
- Stroke and caress each other's skin.
- Take a bath or shower together.
- Kiss with passion.
- Take time to undress each other.
- Don't be afraid to tell each other what you like and how you like to be touched.
- Listen to your partner's breathing and the sounds they make.
- Don't place too much focus on orgasm – enjoy all the feelings and sensations with your partner.
Many people give each other oral sex or masturbate together as a healthy and enjoyable part of their sex life.
If you're not sure about how to suggest something new, try saying: "I enjoy it when we make love, and I wondered how you might feel about trying …".
Find out what you like and reignite the passion
Even if you think you know what you like when it comes to sex, it's worth exploring a bit more.
"Sometimes I'm struck by how little people know about their own body and their partner's body, and their likes and dislikes," says Denise.
Ask yourself what you might like more – or less – of, and what you can give to your partner.
Get to know your body and what feels good. Lie in a warm bath and explore your body. Think about how the water feels on your skin, and relax while enjoying the sensation.
Find out what you like through masturbation, then share this with your partner.
"Sexual preferences are such a unique and individual thing that when you start talking about it and exploring it, you might surprise one another, which is exciting," says Denise.
If you both want different amounts of sex
This happens in many relationships. Losing desire can happen for a number of reasons, such as getting older, illness, having children, or worries about work, money, or the relationship itself.
Be open about how you're feeling. Explore why you want less sex and how it makes you both feel.
"If one partner has a higher sex drive than the other, we work out how to manage it within the relationship," says Denise.
"Masturbation might be an option, or sex toys. Or perhaps cuddling and kissing may be enough.
"A lot of people want to be close to their partner and share pleasure with them, but don't feel like having full intercourse. They may be happy to give other things a try though, which can increase intimacy."
Don't be afraid of hugs and kisses. People often worry that their partner might assume a hug means "I want sex". But if you agree that a hug is just a hug, you can enjoy non-sexual physical contact simply for what it is.
Relate has information on common sex problems and where you can get help and support. The charity also offers sex therapy to help if you're experiencing difficulties in your love life.
The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists has information for the public on several topics, including sex and disability, sex after a diagnosis of cancer.