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!