How To Use Your Brain To Rekindle Sexual Desire In A Long-Term Relationship

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Rekindling desire in a long-term relationship is less about new positions and more about working your brain.

At the beginning of relationships, it’s all fireworks and lightning — as soon as you touch each other, your appetite for sex is renewed. Over time, these intense feelings of sexual desire tend to pitter-patter away.

What’s left is a deep bond with plenty of emotional intimacy and a sense of safety and attachment. Sometimes, it’s easy to take this as a sign that something’s off — you’ve fallen out of love or, perhaps, you’re not meant to be.

As a clinical sexologist, I want you to know there doesn’t have to be anything wrong with your relationship just because you’d rather Netflix and chill than have sex.

There are, however, many ways to restart your sex drive if you want to.

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Rekindling desire in a long-term relationship starts with understanding the link between desire and your brain.

If your sex drive has been non-existent for years or sex has been something that stresses you out, you’re going to want to unpack what your brain thinks about sex — and this isn’t as weird as it sounds!

Part of how much we want sex has to do with how our brains react to sexual signals.

You see, our brains are wired to be, more or less, interested in sex.

Some brains tend to think sex is a great idea most of the time, whereas others perceive sex as not so interesting or even as a potential threat.

The way our brains respond to sexual signals has to do with many things.

Once we understand what our brain is reacting to negatively, we can fix the obstacles in the way of our desire and experience that wonderful intimacy again with our partner.

What is a potential sexual threat?

Depending on how your brain perceives and reacts to sexual signals, the path to getting your sex drive back will be very different.

For example, if you have a brain that thinks having sex often is an excellent idea, new positions and exciting sex toys might be all you need.

A brain that largely perceives sexual signals as a threat, generally speaking, doesn’t react well to overtly sexual signals in the form of sex toys or positions at the get-go.

This is why it’s important to understand what potential sexual threats your brain is picking up on.

Generally speaking, sexual threats can be both perceived and real.

For example, a real threat might be someone coming at us with a knife — not a great time for sex! A perceived threat might be the "threat" of not lubricating, not getting an erection, or not having an orgasm during sex.

By not performing the way you think you should during sex, you might feel like you’re letting your partner down. This causes your brain to view sex as a not-so-great experience for you.

Over time, this pattern is reinforced. Every time you have sex and worry about if you’re getting an erection or if you’ll climax, your brain relearns that sex isn’t pleasurable, leading you to develop low libido.

If you’re looking for ways of how to rekindle sexual desire in a long-term relationship, you need to start by gaining a holistic view of all the potential threats in the way of your sexual appetite.

Here's a quiz to work out potential sexual threats.

Go through each statement below the instructions and answer yes or no if the statement applies to you.

For each statement that’s a "yes," rate how intense this threat or obstacle is on a scale of one to 10 in general in your life. For example, if you’re experiencing stress and your stress levels are substantial, you might rate stress as eight or a 10.

Once you’ve rated the intensity of the threat or obstacle, rate how much you think it’s affecting your sexual desire on a scale of zero to 10.

For example, if you’re experiencing stress that is an eight to a 10 on an intensity scale, and you feel it’s really affecting your sex drive, you might rate its impact on desire as nine or 10. If you feel like stress doesn’t affect your sex drive at all, you might rate it as zero.

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Now, take both intensity and impact on desire and multiply them to get a score of zero to 100. For example: stress intensity (eight) x impact on desire (nine) = 72.

When you have calculated intensity and impact, you will have several scores ranging between zero and 100. The ones with the highest score are likely being valued as sexual threats by your brain, and these are the ones you’ll want to work on.

By eliminating these obstacles or making them easier to deal with, you can feel that passion again in your relationship.

Some examples of threats and obstacles include:

You’re experiencing stress.

You’re tired.

You don’t know what turns you on.

You’re ashamed of your body.

Your partner always wants sex as soon as you turn the lights out.

You can’t talk about sexual likes and dislikes.

You feel like you’re abnormal or something’s wrong with you for not wanting sex more.

You grew up in an environment where sex was taboo and shameful.

Getting your brain on board for sex. 

Getting the spark back might very well have little to do with introducing sexual positions or sex toys and more to do with getting your brain on board.

Our brains are more or less inclined to want sex, and depending on how we’re wired and what we’re experiencing, at the moment, our brain might feel like sex isn’t a good idea.

If you want to know how to rekindle sexual desire in a long-term relationship, your best bet if starting from the beginning and really gaining an understanding of how your mind feels about sex and why.

Once you know more about how your brain reacts to various factors and situations such as tiredness or shame surrounding sex, you can create that lusty feeling again.

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Leigh Norén is a sex therapist and writer with a Master of Science in Sexology. She’s been featured in Women's Health, Thrive Global, The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, Glamour, The Minds Journal, and more. To learn more about desire in a long-term relationship, visit her website. To learn more about how your sex drive works, download her free resource: The Desire Test.

This article was originally published at Therapy by Leigh. Reprinted with permission from the author.