Is It Possible to Maintain Sexual Chemistry with One Person Forever?

1216370864439_fGiven that I’m single, the question posed in the title has not occurred to me for quite some time. But yesterday I stumbled upon a riveting TED talk called, “The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship,” and it rekindled my interest in the subject.

The talk, given by Esther Perel, is all about, our conflicting needs for both security and surprise in committed, long-term relationships. The same things that are often sexual turn offs (responsibility, consistency, predictability) are the same things that make us want to wake up next to the same person every morning.

I’ve only experienced two long-term relationships, one for 3.5 years and one for just over 1 year. Out of respect for those women, I won’t go into sordid details, but there was one overarching thread in the TED talk that made me wish I had watched the talk with those girlfriends years ago.

The thread follows the idea that for sexual intimacy to be sustained in a relationship, it must supersede need and nurture. As Perel says, being nurturing isn’t sexy. Taking care of someone isn’t sexy. Those are attractive qualities, but they don’t provide a sustained spark. Imagine your husband or wife turning off the bedside lamp, yawning, and saying, “I think it’s your turn to take care of my needs tonight.” Perel suggests this attitude of necessity and expectations can be killer to long-term sexual chemistry.

At the end of the talk, she talks about three things that can directly help to sustain that chemistry. I thought these were truly brilliant, so I wanted to share them here:

  1. Sexual Privacy. Each of our sexual desires is highly personal, and while it’s great to share them with someone we trust, we should also have the freedom to have “sexual privacy” in our own minds while we’re physically our committed spouse/partner. This is actually something I touched upon in a blog post a long time ago about whether or not it’s “cheating” if your mind wanders during sex. The poll in the entry asked people if they’ve ever thought about someone else during a sexual act with a significant other. I’m surprised that only 61% said yes, which makes me think that some people are wary of the idea of “sexual privacy.”
  2. Forever Foreplay. Perel emphasizes that foreplay isn’t something you start 5 minutes before the real thing. Rather, foreplay is an ongoing flirtation that builds up tension, desire, and anticipation. In one of my relationships, I was very attracted to my girlfriend and would often flirt with her, but whenever I did, she would want to take it to the next level right away. Which meant that I basically couldn’t flirt unless I was ready to go right then and there, which is a shame, because I really enjoy foreplay over longer periods of time that builds up to something much more exciting in the end than the quick fix.
  3. It’s Not a Job. Stop being a good citizen who takes care of the other person and thinks about her needs more than your own. By being a little selfish in bed, you stay in tune with your own desires, and your partner will appreciate that much more than if you’re trying to anticipate and cater to their every need. I remember trying so hard to please my first college girlfriend that I wasn’t paying attention at all to what I wanted, and that was a turnoff for her.

Overall, Perel emphasizes that maintaining chemistry over a long period of time is possible if it’s is willful and intentional. You can’t just expect the person to magically want you simply because they love you–they’re two very different feelings. So I think there’s a lot of wisdom in Perel’s talk for couples to go out of their way to continue to learn about their chemistry and sexuality.

I’ve barely touched upon the full content of the talk here, so I highly recommend you check it out if you have 20 minutes. Let me know if I missed anything worth mentioning in the comments!


4 Responses to “Is It Possible to Maintain Sexual Chemistry with One Person Forever?”

  1. RodeoClown says:

    My wife is my only sexual partner, and we waited until we were married before we started. That’s worked out pretty well for us so far (12th anniversary in a couple of months).

    In my experience desire comes and goes over time, but a long term relationship is built on more than sexual fulfilment. I haven’t watched the video, but from your points I’d suggest to your point 1 that if you’re thinking about someone else while you’re in the middle of a physical encounter, that’s not going to be helpful long-term. I heard someone once say that you want to make your wife your standard of physical beauty, rather than comparing her (in part or in whole) to someone else.

    Points 2 and 3 seem a lot more correct to me — foreplay takes on a whole new dimension when you expect the person you’re wooing to still be there in a decade’s time 🙂 — and looking after someone else kinda requires you to know what you want so you can help them out in that department.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Thanks for sharing! Your point about making your wife/spouse your standard of physical beauty is really important. I would agree, but I wouldn’t say that fantasizing about other things is the same as comparing you wife to someone else. The choice to compare isn’t healthy or productive, but the choice to fantasize can be (at least, according to Perel).

      A major part about the talk is about not imposing your sexual needs upon your partner. I’m not going to say this as well as Perel, so I’ll copy from the TED transcript:

      And so I began to ask a different question. “I shut myself off when …” began to be the question. “I turn off my desires when …” which is not the same question as, “What turns me off is …” and “You turn me off when …” And people began to say, “I turn myself off when I feel dead inside, when I don’t like my body, when I feel old, when I haven’t had time for myself, when I haven’t had a chance to even check in with you, when I don’t perform well at work, when I feel low self esteem, when I don’t have a sense of self-worth, when I don’t feel like I have a right to want, to take, to receive pleasure.”

      And then I began to ask the reverse question. “I turn myself on when …” Because most of the time, people like to ask the question, “You turn me on, what turns me on,” and I’m out of the question. You know? Now, if you are dead inside, the other person can do a lot of things for Valentine’s. It won’t make a dent. There is nobody at the reception desk.

      (Laughter) So I turn myself on when, I turn my desires, I wake up when …

      Perel goes on to say:

      Basically most of us will get turned on at night by the very same things that we will demonstrate against during the day. You know, the erotic mind is not very politically correct. If everybody was fantasizing on a bed of roses, we wouldn’t be having such interesting talks about this. But no, in our mind up there are a host of things going on that we don’t always know how to bring to the person that we love, because we think love comes with selflessness and in fact desire comes with a certain amount of selfishness in the best sense of the word: the ability to stay connected to one’s self in the presence of another.

      I’d be curious to hear your thoughts if you have the chance to listen to or read the full talk, especially from your perspective as a happily married person.

  2. Jasmin says:

    Well, isn’t that a sexy picture of George Costanza?

    I think I have seen this video a while ago and talk to someone about it… Or is it you again who talked about this in some post? Perel also mentioned that having someone as your all (lover, friend, council, etc.) is not all that sexy. Because it’s not possible. A person cannot fulfill all your needs when it was something that a village used to provide. A person shouldn’t be solely depend on another person, a need to have another person, to feel like a complete individual in a crowd. I think the other part of her answer for maintaining that sexual chemistry in a long term relationship is to grow individually and share the experience with each other; otherwise, you will be bored of each other. I watched another TED video, Tony Robbins: Why we do what we do, that kinda goes with this. The whole self-improvement, know yourself, know your desires, being a little selfish so you get things done to become who you want to be are things that make you sexy and people know it. They feel it, you share, you are happy with yourself, and your significant other sees and feels that which turns to “I’m with that happy butt there and we are going to bang.” Perel’s example of “I’m turn on when she’s far away and doing her own thing” or something like that. I don’t remember her exact words from the video.

    Thanks for sharing, Jamey. 🙂

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Jas: Thanks for your comment. That’s one of my favorite parts of the talk. She talks about how it’s really sexy to see someone you care about in their element, but apart from you. The example she gave is going to a party and spotting your significant other from across the room and seeing their confidence or the way they’re kind to people. Not only is the observation a turn-on, but it’s also the gap between you and the person at that time that builds chemistry. Chemistry isn’t about clinging to your partner and making them yours all the time. It’s about giving them the space to be themselves. (I’m paraphrasing Perel here.)

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