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By Nicholas Velotta

Relationships go through stages. The first stage is usually infatuation. It’s all the butterflies and blissful mystery that comes with getting to know someone…and we tend to have tons of sex in this phase of the relationship. Then we transition into a more stable phase, which has the qualities that make love last: reliability, comfortability, companionship. But somewhere in-between those stages, sex becomes less frequent, less exciting and, sometimes, nonexistent.

As gay men we are lead to believe that sex is just going to happen “naturally” with our partner(s), and when it doesn’t it’s a signal of incompatibility. Yet, if you’re in Stage Two where life is no longer a perpetual bang-fest, you’re far from alone. Low sexual desire and low sexual frequency are the top complaints that bring otherwise happy couples into sex therapists. Truth is, sex in a long-term relationship is intentional and takes work to maintain. Here’s some tips to help reach that goal.

Novelty, diversity, newness

Whichever word you want to use, our sex lives need novelty to thrive. Breaking out of habit is a must now that passion is waning, so keep things moving into new territory. Start easy—maybe a new sex toy or position—and gradually get to bigger things once you feel comfortable—like bondage or threesomes. Remember to keep communication open and know that there will be hiccups, and when there are missteps or your partner says he wants to try something new don’t ridicule him. Growth is awkward sometimes so just role with it!

Don’t discount non-penetrative sex

There are some guys who see foreplay, blowjobs, rimming, etc. as less-exciting than penetration. They need a shift of perception. Sex is replete of different behaviors that aren’t all about getting the D in the B, so why not enjoy all of them without prejudice? Stop being so anal about anal.

Plan sex

Like I said, sex needs to be intentional. We get too caught up with notions of sexual spontaneity (thanks Rom-Coms) and we forget sex is a normal part of life just like eating, sleeping, and work. We have to accommodate our busy schedules by setting aside time specifically for sex and time to connect with our partner. It also gives you something to anticipate during your day, which is a great way to build up sexual tension!

Stop trying to “get back to the way things were”

You are in a new phase of your relationship and your partner is no longer a stranger, his body isn’t new terrain to explore. Is that a bad thing? Not at all. It means you have a deeper, more matured connection to one another. So it’s time to move into the future with your relationship and sex life rather than ruminate on the past.

Develop more autonomy

Chief among reasons our passion fades is the closeness we experience from long-term intimacy. It seems paradoxical, but passion feeds off of tension and newness whereas intimacy feeds off of companionship and stability. Both are essential, but they’re diametrically opposed. To revive passion, try asserting your individuality more and meshing with your partner a little less. This enables partners to see one another as separate, autonomous beings rather than the enmeshed couple that supposedly “knows everything about each other”. Start with less texting during your days and go a little bit further as needed. Also check out psychotherapist, Esther Perel’s work and TED Talk on this.

Sex therapy

If you’re in dire straights it may be time to call in a professional. Some couples just need a nudge in the right direction, others need long-term counseling to help each partner move past mental barriers to sex. There might be things your partner hasn’t told you about his sexual history or parental/guardian relationship that are barring him from having a successful sex life with you. Be patient and empathetic, that type of baggage is hard to move past even as an adult.

Nicholas Velotta is a sex and relationship researcher and writer located out of the University of Washington in Seattle.

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