5 Tips for Rekindling Desire
By Emma McGowan
You've been with your partner for a while now. The familiarity and comfort are great, but sometimes you miss those early days of passion and excitement. Don't worry, the spark is still there; it just needs a little rekindling! As science nerds, we know that desire thrives on dopamine, the excitement neurotransmitter. The good news is, you can hack your brain chemistry and bring the dopamine back.
We spoke with Leighanna Cure MA, MFT-C, founder of Break the Mold Therapy and creator of the sex positive The F*ing Truth webinar series, to get some expert tips on how to stoke your desire and make date night hot again. (Or, as Cure says, get your "horny light" turned back on.) Your partner won't know what hit them (in the best possible way!).
Yeah, yeah, we know: These lists always start with a reminder to communicate. But that's because the brain truly is your biggest sex organ and in order for your brain to click in with your partner's brain, you do have to actually communicate. (We'll let you know when someone finally invents mind reading.)
But talking about this stuff is hard!! Sometimes it feels like our brains completely short out when it comes to actually using our words about sex. Luckily, Cure tells Ohnut, there are both verbal and non-verbal ways to communicate about your desires.
"Let's talk about sex, ba-by! Let's talk about you, and me!"
Let's start with the verbal: Talking about sexual fantasies. You're more than welcome to bring it up any time (we recommend the car because you don't have to look at each other and no one can run away.) But if it feels too weird to do it on the drive to the grocery store, you can work fantasy sharing into dirty talk while you're in the moment. Ask your partner to describe what they want to do to you or start describing one of your own fantasies. Get that brain engaged!
And if talking is too weird altogether, Cure recommends the Spicer app, which lets you anonymously share your sexual interests with your partner. It's like a digital "will, want, won't" list, letting you choose which things you're into—and which things you're not. Then, the app only shares the sexual interests you and your partner are both into. Then you can take it from there!
Guide your partner
Cure recommends her clients who aren't super into talking it out practice “hand guiding,” which is where one partner moves the other’s hands over their body to show exactly how they like to be touched. This helps you learn your partner's desires in an intimate, exploratory way. It can also get things moving in the moment, as at least one of you (if not both) is pretty likely to get turned on by this activity.
2. Accept and expect awkwardness
When you're trying to reconnect physically with your partner, awkwardness is inevitable. Cure says to take, for example, the case of two people with vaginas using a strap-on phallus for the first time.
"In general, it's going to be a little funny, a lot awkward, and kind of weird!" Cure says. "It might be painful and uncomfortable—or it might be awesome. But if we let all of those possibilities sit on the table, then there's no wrong way to engage."
Here are some other tips for pushing through those initial awkward feelings.
- Accept that it will feel weird at first: After being together for a while, intimacy can become routine. New sexual activities may seem strange or clumsy, but that's okay. Focus on enjoying each other, not perfection. The awkwardness will fade as you get more comfortable.
- Start slow: Don't go from 0 to 60 in one night. Begin with casual touches, kisses and caresses. Maybe a massage with soothing music. As desire builds, explore further at your own pace. Rushing can kill the mood and increase discomfort for both parties.
- Be playful: Laughter releases endorphins that boost arousal and pleasure. Tickle each other, giggle at accidental noises or faces, don't take things too seriously. Play some sexy games to lighten the mood, like strip poker or truth or dare. Make intimacy fun again!
- Talk through it: Discuss your feelings openly and honestly. Reassure each other that the awkwardness is normal and will pass. Share what specifically makes you uncomfortable and look for compromises. The more you communicate, the closer you'll feel and the less awkward it will be.
3. Everything is foreplay
When it comes to rekindling desire in your relationship, think of everything as foreplay. Cure points to research by relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, which has found that "everything is foreplay." In other words: the little interactions and activities in your daily life act as foreplay, either accelerating or inhibiting desire.
"That means if you have a big fight, that's 'bad foreplay,'" Cure says.
"The way you engage with your partner is a constant dance, not just something you do when you want to have sex. Make it a day-to-day habit, rather than a single moment."
Similarly, Cure also likes to lean on the work of Dr. Emily Nagoski, author of the seminal book Come As You Are, which talks (among other things) about "gas pedals" (aka turn-ons) and "brakes" (aka turn-offs) for desire.
- Date nights and quality time together are the gas pedals. Doing fun activities together, trying new experiences, communicating openly, giving compliments, flirting—these all act as the gas pedal by building intimacy and desire. Make time for regular date nights, limit distractions, be fully present and engage in meaningful conversations. Play together—try dancing, a hobby you both enjoy, reminiscing over photos, or playing board games. Physical touch and intimacy release oxytocin, the "love hormone", so hug, hold hands and cuddle often.
- Stress and negative interactions are the brakes. Life stressors, resentment, criticism, and conflict decrease desire by activating the brakes. Practice active listening, speak kindly and validate each other's feelings. Divide household chores and responsibilities evenly so neither feels overburdened or underappreciated. Make time for self-care to better manage stress and recharge. Seek professional counseling if needed to work through persistent issues.
Foreplay is about connection, not just physical pleasure
Don't view foreplay as merely a means to an end. Take time exploring each other's bodies through sensual massage, kissing, caressing and oral sex. Discover new erogenous zones and share fantasies. Be present in the moment rather than focusing on orgasm. This unhurried, playful intimacy will increase arousal and bring you closer together emotionally and physically.
Mix up your routine
Psychotherapist and sexual behavior expert Esther Perel says that "desire is rooted in absence and longing," two elements that are largely missing from modern long term relationships. Think about it: Does your SO still surprise you? How much time do you spend with them? The simple truth is that the monotony of monogamy and cohabitation is often a desire-killer.
So be willing to shake things up. We're not saying open up your relationship, if that's not what you're into, but try new date ideas. Do some hobbies together. You could even rearrange the furniture in your house! Novelty releases dopamine which stimulates desire and motivation for reward—in this case, physical intimacy.
4. Focus on your individual wellbeing
A healthy libido starts with you. Focusing on your own wellbeing is key to rekindling your desire and improving your connection with your partner.
- Eat a balanced diet: A balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains provides the nutrients you need for a healthy libido and hormone production. Limit excess sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats which can negatively impact mood and desire. And, as sex advice expert Dan Savage always says: Fuck first! (In other words, don't go out for a huge meal together and then expect to get it on when you're full of delicious pasta. Get intimate before dinner, then go carbo-load!)
- Exercise regularly: Exercise releases feel-good hormones like endorphins that boost your mood and confidence. Even taking a 30 minute walk a few times a week can help. Yoga or strength training are also great options. Find physical activities you and your partner both enjoy and make it a habit.
- Manage stress: Too much stress can sabotage your sex drive. Try meditation, deep breathing, a warm bath, or journaling. Spending time with loved ones can also help shift your mind from stressful thoughts. Take occasional vacations or date nights and make the most of them by turning off your phones and being fully present with each other.
- Limit screen time: Binging shows or scrolling social media before bed disrupts your circadian rhythm and overstimulates your mind. It also draws your attention away from your partner, right at the time of day when you're likely to be inclined to have sex. Make a rule to avoid screens one hour before bed at least once a week and do something to unwind together like reading, talking, or giving each other massages with scented oil.
5. Work on boosting your self perception
When it comes to rekindling desire, how you view yourself has a huge impact. Our self-perception is shaped by years of experiences, interactions, media messages, etc. Unfortunately, many of us have developed negative views of our bodies and sexuality that sap our confidence in intimate relationships. The good news is we can work to reshape our self-perception by challenging those negative beliefs and focusing on self-love.
"Changing the way we talk to and criticize ourselves can change the way we get into our sexual selves," Cure says. "If you look in the mirror and see a roll of fat, that's just part of your body! There's nothing inherently negative about it. And if your partner is still interested, then the perspective that needs to change is yours."
That nagging voice inside your head that points out your perceived flaws and inadequacies? Tell it to pipe down. Cure recommends even giving it a name: hers is "Mark." Actually say (out loud if possible), “Stop it, you're being irrational” or “Quiet, Mark!” Replace negative thoughts with more balanced and compassionate ones. Your worth isn’t defined by unrealistic societal beauty standards.
So there you have it, a few tips to help reignite the spark in your relationship and reconnect with your partner on an intimate level. While desire may ebb and flow over the course of a long-term relationship, the good news is that with conscious effort and open communication, you can find your way back to that place of passion and excitement.
Make the time for regular dates, try new activities together, express your affection openly and often. Talk to your partner, listen without judgment, and be vulnerable by sharing your wants and needs. With patience and practice, you'll be well on your way to rekindling desire and keeping that spark alive.
Great article thank you