The first time I tried scheduling sex, I typed “SEX” in all caps into my husband's calendar, not realising his coworkers and boss could see it too.
Things have come a long way since then. We’ve been happily married for nearly five years, in couples therapy for one, and I no longer have access to his work computer. But, most important, I’ve learned the importance of setting time aside for one’s relationship. In my case, this came in the form of counseling I sought out after having a breakdown, in the midst of a dry spell, thinking I wanted a divorce. (I did not.) It turns out nothing was actually wrong with our marriage; all we needed was consistently allotted time, sans distraction, dedicated to us as a couple. Once that clicked—and I’m sorry if anyone in my family is reading this—our dry spell was over, and we were back to having incredible sex. And often!
It can be easy to forget that relationships take work, and work, like all things, requires time, effort, and planning, especially for sex. Most things in life require preparation. Why should intimacy be any different? Without strategy, sex becomes theoretical—the “We should get together sometime!” of domesticity. If you don't sit down and schedule it, it’s just not going to happen.
“The more we intertwine our lives with logistics, finances, cleaning toilets, kids, work, etc., the less space we have for sexy stuff,” Rachel Wright, MA, LMFT, licensed psychotherapist and founder of Shame Free Therapy, tells Glamour. “Unless you’re committing to prioritising your sexual connection and pleasure, it’s easy for it to get lost in the shuffle of life.”
That doesn't mean anything is “wrong” with your relationship though. “It is completely normal for couples in long-term relationships to go for long stretches of time without physical intimacy,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, MA, LMFT, in-house relationship expert at Paired. “What a ‘long time’ means depends deeply on the couple: for some that's a few weeks, for others it’s a few years.”
Still, a sharp decline in sex is noticeable, and it can be tough to determine what needs to be done to get the spark back. “There are many, many reasons sex can decline in a relationship,” says sociologist and certified sexologist Sarah Melancon, PhD. “As time goes on in a relationship, we tend to have more responsibilities that take our time, energy, and focus.” She points to children, work, and caregiving as examples. Alternatively, it could be as simple as the dynamic having changed over time. “For instance,” she says, “a couple may have enjoyed concerts or other events, where sex tended to occur after, but once they have kids, there’s less time for a one-on-one outing.”
What's more, Melancon adds, after the first six months to two years of a relationship, the honeymoon-phase hormones and chemicals wear off and reality starts to set in. “Your partner has annoying habits, you always have that fight, and you may start to feel the strain of some unmet needs in the relationship,” she says. “At this point, sex can decline in the face of drama.”
That's why, in addition to working toward improving your relationship overall, experts encourage couples to schedule sex and physical intimacy—and insist that doing so isn't vanilla. “I will forever shout this from the rooftop: Being intentional is the new sexy,” Beverley Andre, LMFT, relationship coach and founder of BeHeart Counseling Services, tells Glamour. “Some people get it wrong when they think of scheduling sex as boring or a duty that needs to be done. Scheduling doesn't automatically mean you won't have steamy spur-of-the-moment, exciting, and mind-blowing quickies. If you want to ensure that you and your partner prioritise connection, fun, and sexual chemistry, schedule it.”
Says Wright, “You’re not scheduling: ‘At 7:05 p.m. the tongue will touch the…’ You’re scheduling time for physical intimacy. Whatever happens in that container can still be spur-of-the-moment, without the timing of it being spur-of-the-moment.” Wright says she's noticed that couples who schedule time for physical intimacy end up having more spontaneous sex as a result but makes an important clarification: “Scheduling containers for physical intimacy is really important, whether or not that includes penetrative sex. I define sex as a meaningful experience of pleasure. Notice that it doesn’t say anything about body parts, penetration, gender, nothing.” Translation? “Sex” is whatever you and your partner(s) make it.
Furthermore, scheduled moments may help you realise what else you were missing from the relationship. "Oftentimes someone might not really know what they want because of complex competing emotions, or just stress pulling your mind in different directions,” says DeGeare. “By scheduling sex, one partner might say, ‘Wow, I really didn’t realise how much I missed you,’ or, ‘I feel so much more relaxed and connected.’ They needed it on the schedule to slow down and connect.”
These periods also serve as prime time to think and talk about sex—and what you want from it. “If partners don’t know or don’t advocate for what they really need in bed, scheduling won’t change that,” Melancon points out. “Partners need to be clear about their wants and needs for scheduled sex to be satisfying.” Not doing so is actually one of the many causes of less sex, she adds: “Many couples default to normative sex—going around the bases, for instance—without giving their needs a deeper thought. But when one’s needs and desires aren’t met, sex can become unappealing.”
Once you've pinpointed what it is you want from intimacy with your partner, whether that's a new kink or fetish, or simply a massage, your planned sessions provide the perfect opportunity to test it out. “Often we assume sex means a certain set of acts—like kissing, oral, or intercourse—but you can do anything that feels erotic,” Melancon says. “There’s no right or wrong as long as it’s consensual.”
Such has been the case for Marie and her partner, who are both teachers in Texas. “In the first weeks of our relationship, we were having sex every day, sometimes multiple times a day,” she tells Glamour. “Then, after those fun, butterfly-filled beginnings, we got into a routine pattern of having sex once a week, and sex started to slow. We would go on dates, then get home and fall asleep.” Realising this, Marie decided they should try scheduling sex in advance.
“The conversation was simple,” she says, “and it was just one of us saying to the other, ‘Hey, I'd really like to have sex tonight. I've been thinking about you all week. Would that be okay with you if we got home early so we can make that happen?’ To ensure these plans would follow through, we would be extra flirty at dinner and dirty talk over our cocktails in order to build up the tension for later. As long as we had the conversation beforehand, this always worked.” See, anticipation is sexy!
As for how to keep it sexy? “Be creative and use your imagination—and think about your and your partner's fantasies and make them come true,” Andre advises. “Spice is relative to the person, so be in tune with what excites you and your partner. There are a few apps and card games that couples can use to have conversations about fantasies. If you can imagine it, it can happen.” If you're still having trouble, Andre suggests finding a certified sex therapist via AASECT who can help you and your partner(s) explore your sexual identities.
At the end of the day, it's hard to argue that open and honest communication is unappealing in any way shape or form. And Marie continues to assert that scheduling sex has never felt boring. “Fun and spontaneity are overrated and, honestly, not sexy,” she says. “But you know what is sexy? Teasing, suspense, and a long-awaited orgasm that you've been thinking about for hours—or days.”
Penciling it in doesn't sound so bad now, does it?
Article originally appeared in GLAMOUR US.