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Sex After Marriage: Desire vs Arousal

We all know the cliché or have heard others comment, “Oh you’re getting married? Well, there goes your sex life…” Yikes, right?!?! And for many of us that feels kinda true. Maybe not so much at the beginning but the longer we are hitched the more it feels like we fall out of lust with our partner. And maybe that’s because our lives have gotten so busy that we didn’t make time for sex and here we are. Plus, many other factors of course 😉

Let’s dig-in and learn a little more about sex after marriage.  As we explore and learn more about desire, arousal and different types of arousal we will better understand sex while being married or in a long-term relationship. Oh, and how different it is from those one-night-stands in college. We often think desire and arousal are the same thing; they aren’t. What about the terms spontaneous and responsive arousal? Those might be new terms, too.  And, who knew that the comfortableness (is that a word?) of our long-term relationship can actually be a good thing for hopping into bed.

Desire and Arousal, what are they, really?

According to each of these words mean:

Desire- sexual appetite or sexual urge

Arousal-the act of stimulating someone sexually, or the state of being sexually stimulated

Often these two words get lumped into meaning the same thing but if we break that down sexual desire is more cognitive and it’s our brain that is thinking about and wanting sex. This is also known as libido. Arousal is the reaction your body physically makes when it is in a position where sex is a possibility. It is physically preparing by way of lubricating or engorging. It is possible to have one before the other or one without the other. Think about our bodies physically and how they change as we age. We know that having sex without arousal makes the actual act a little more difficult, but not impossible, and sometimes not without a little help from things like lubricants or pills 🙂 You also might be asking “but what about desire? Is sex possible without desire?”

Sexual desire can be affected by many factors such as stress levels, emotional closeness, menstrual cycle, setting, age, health, gender, status of relationship, medications, hormones and previous sexual experiences. These factors contribute to where one is at the moment and what their level of desire may be.

The truth of the matter is that we do not need both in-order to have sex or to make the wants turn into reality.

It’s very plausible that we might have the libido or the mental desire to have sex but our body might not comply. The truth can also be found that our body might become aroused even in moments where we aren’t even wanting to have sex but physically our body reacts (this often happens in circumstances around sexual assault. This can be confusing for the victim because it feels like their body betrayed their mind and reacted to an undesirable situation, but that’s information for a whole other blog post…)

Can we switch it around and have arousal first?

So many times we think “I’m too tired” or we say, “not tonight honey,” almost out of habit. But what if instead we linger a little longer than a peck or we offer a sensual caress instead of a pat on the shoulder? In making these small changes we find that we can encourage the desire through physical arousal first.

So what do we do when we are just so exhausted at the end of the day sex does not even seem like an option?

Think of it this way, if you put an appointment on your calendar, do you show up for it? I know this might not sound super romantic but let’s be honest are we going for full on romance right now or are wanting to get laid with our partner more than once a month? Maybe we don’t have to put an actual appointment on our calendar but what if we make a mental note that hey, save some energy for getting freaky tonight or don’t have dessert right away if that extra dose of sugar knocks you out on the couch. Save that ice cream sandwich for after the love making 😉

What if you and your partner like to get busy at different times of the day? Afternoon delight anyone? Or before the kiddos wake up or after they go to bed…change it up! Relationships are about compromise and connection.

Spontaneous vs. Responsive Desire

We often expect to spontaneously feel desire or arousal, at least that’s what we see in movies and on TV shows. This can happen, but more so at the start of relationships when things are more novel. It is actually “normal” to not spontaneously feel desire or arousal as time and comfort progress in your relationship.

Lust or spontaneous desire is when early on in your relationship all it took was a kiss and you were ready to sneak into the bathroom at the back of the bar… or library….ha. And take care of business. Lust is great and fun but it doesn’t necessarily last. In long-term relationships it could be as rare as your kiddo cleaning their room without being asked….hey, it could happen.

On the other hand, responsive desire happens after some sexual activity has started hence the “responding to…”

This is a very important aspect of long-term relationships. Once the lust or honeymoon-phase has worn off or the spontaneous sexual desire has waned we can rely more readily on responsive sexual desire. This also comes with the safety and familiarity we feel with our committed partner. Don’t take this comfortableness (there it is again) for granted. View it more as longed for connection and the ability to be vulnerable. Then we can caress all we want to get those juices flowin’ (pun intended) first, before we have a chance for that cognitive desire or even rejection.

Think back to a time when you were not really in the mood or felt tired at the end on the day. What happened when your partner wanted a kiss? 

What if you kissed and lingered just a little longer than usual and it turned into a full on boink fest? This can be the case if we remember the strong possibility of getting in the mood, if we try harder, ha. But seriously, instead of saying no initially or out of habit what if we said, “wait a minute, come over here and give me a kiss or a rub or a pat and let’s see where that takes us.” You’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised. 

In these cases, the start of sexual activity sparks the sexual desire that we were expecting to happen initially. Again, desire and arousal are not the same and do not need to happen in a certain order. We do not need to have sexual desire before we have arousal, especially as we get older and priorities and bodies change 😉

Feel free to take this information and do with it what you please. Just remember that a little bit of patience, persistence and the absence of expecting all of our lovemaking to look as spontaneous as it does on TV can go a long way in our long-term relationships.

If this resonates with you and you and your partner are struggling to connect physically or emotionally, reach out. I'd love to help!

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