The 4-Step Guide To Getting Over A Sexual Dry Spell

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell.
In 1983, sociologist Pepper Schwartz coined the term "lesbian bed death," which is the idea that queer women eventually become so comfortable in their relationships that they stop having sex. Understandably, queer women aren't exactly thrilled with the term, because it furthers harmful stereotypes about women's (even straight women's) sex drives — namely, that they don't have one. And, the truth is, every kind of couple goes through bed death, it's just called something else.
Bed death by any other name is a dry spell or a sex slump, and most long-term couples (straight or gay) will go through it at least once, says Paulette Sherman, PsyD, a New York City-based psychologist and author of Dating from the Inside Out. "Couples fall into a dry spell for a variety of reasons. Sometimes sex wanes because partners start taking each other for granted, and they find themselves less attracted to one another," she says. Stress, depression, poor body image, fear of rejection, or fear of poor sexual performance can also affect your libido. And then sometimes, people are just too exhausted from work or kids (or both) to create time for intimacy.
For a lot of couples, going from hot and heavy to tired and timid sets off alarm bells. Carolynn Aristone, LCSW, an intimacy breakthrough specialist, sees many couples who come to her office worried that their sex slump equals impending doom for their relationship. "They think, What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with us?" she says. "It creates feelings of doubt, and the seed of rejection gets planted."
Aristone and Dr. Sherman have a four-step plan for any couple who wants to get over those feelings (and under each other again). Read on for their advice.
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illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Step 1: Realize that dry spells are normal.

The first thing Aristones tells couples who are worried about their dry spell is to take a breath and realize that this is totally normal. "There's no crisis or emergency if your sex life starts to slow down or become dormant," she says. "That’s natural."
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illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Step 2: Face that it's happening to you.

For a lot of couples, the knee-jerk response to a dry spell is to shut down, Aristones says. "One partner might think there are signs that they could be sexual, but the partner isn’t sure and ends up backing off. Or, a partner might try to indicate that they could have sex, but then the couple ends up watching movies," she says. "There's this kind of uncertain dance."

The longer you and your partner go without talking about the dry spell, the more anxious you'll be about having sex again. "It creates a lot of questions for both partners," Aristones says. So, it's important for you and your partner to sit down and have an honest discussion about what's going on. Just talking about it can relieve the tension. "Y0u’re afraid of diving into that conversation because you don’t know how they’ll respond," she says. "But, you need to rock the boat."

When you do start talking about it, it's important to do it kindly, Dr. Sherman says. "In couples therapy, I see a lot of people pointing fingers and saying, 'You never initiate,'" she says. Instead of trying to assign blame for the dry spell, you and your partner should think about how you both contribute to it, and then figure out why. "Sometimes when you get to the core of the issue and [are] vulnerable and don't have your partner using your feelings against you, that can help to end the dry spell," Dr. Sherman says.
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illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Step 3: Try to feel sexy again.

Once you're done talking about your sex slump, you have to do something about it, Aristones says. First, you'll each have to rebuild your own sex drives. "They need to be bringing their minds back to sex. If we’re not thinking about sex, it’s much harder to make it happen," Aristones says.

Start by spicing up your thinking, whether that's through reading erotic stories or getting reconnected to your body through a sensual bath or masturbation. It can also help to do things that aren't inherently sexy, but that make you excited — like cooking something special or taking a hike. "When both partners are doing that, they can have much better conversations about being passionate or lustful," Aristones says.
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illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Step 4: Reconnect with your partner.

After you've rediscovered your individual sex drives, there are actions you and your partner can do together to put sex back on the table. It's about cultivating a sexy energy, Dr. Sherman says. Start by doing something physical — but not sexual — like going on a roller coaster together or taking your partner dancing. There's actually research that shows doing something new or thrilling with your partner helps you fall in love, Dr. Sherman says.

While an out-of-bedroom adventure can help you reconnect with your partner, an in-bedroom adventure is the end goal. But, that can be intimidating when you haven't had sex in a while, so Dr. Sherman suggests starting with something low key, like a sensual massage or a good ol' fashion make out. "Any physical affection will bring out the hormones and the attraction," she says. Eventually, you'll work yourselves up to having sex.

Of course, these little moments don't help if you don't address the reasons you got into a slump to begin with, like resentment or exhaustion. For couples who feel resentful toward their partners, Dr. Sherman says to act like you just started dating. "When people first start dating, they always talk about how great the person is," Dr. Sherman says. So start being vocal about the good things again. It just might make your partner want to jump your bones.

And, for couples who got into a slump because they're overworked, overtired, and just can't seem to make the time, she suggests starting with just one date night (and date night sex). "Sex can be like eating Cheetos: You can't just stop at one," Dr. Sherman says. It might feel awkward and clumsy having sex for the first time in a long time, but once you do it, you'll probably want to keep doing it.

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