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Stuck in a Relationship Dry Spell?

Whether you're single or partnered, dry spells get such a bad rap. Aren't we over shaming people or ourselves for having sex or for not having sex? It's such a lose-lose situation.

The shame attached to dry spells is intertwined with the pressure around sexual desire and the idea of compulsory sexuality - that it is 'normal' to want sex, everyone wants sex and if you don't want sex, there's something wrong with you that needs to be fixed. The reality is that it's okay to want sex and it's also okay to not want sex for whatever reasons. However, of course we run into trouble when we have partners and our experiences of sexual desire consistently don't line up with theirs. Even more trouble, when it goes unaddressed, ignored or gets poorly handled. Let's start from the top.

What defines a dry spell?  

There is no set number or time frame for a dry spell, and it can be entirely subjective. For some, it’s not having sex for 2 weeks, 2 months or 20 years. For others, it can be a period of time where you’re not having as much partnered sex as you’d like. 

Dry spells are incredibly common across relationships, and it’s also very common for the people within the relationship to have differing opinions on it. Our definitions of dry spells are often influenced by our previous experiences, our understanding of our sexual needs as well as what we've been exposed to. Sexless marriages are a very common trope we see in reality and in the media, and these shape our understandings of relationships.

What causes relationship dry spells?

There is rarely one singular issue that causes a dry spell in a relationship. More often that not, it's a culmination of various factors piling on top of each other. These are the top contenders that I've seen in sessions:

  • Relationship issues. This can be conflict, lack of intimacy, infidelity, communication struggles, etc. 

  • Stress. Unmanaged stress often slams the brakes on our s*xual desire.

  • Lack of time. Very unsexy.

  • Changes in health or ability. Medical conditions, medications, issues with arousal or orgasm can impact desire.

Life changes are also a big factor in this, for example pregnancy, mental health challenges, or relocating cities. Often once one or two of these factors pile on, it can start to snowball. Sexual desire can be an incredibly fickle thing and our brains are built on convenience and habit. So once we're in a dry spell (however we define it), it can feel difficult to change gears and to do so in a way that also lines up with our partners, and that's just so human.

What does it mean for our relationship? 

Dry spells aren’t inherently an issue insofar as there are open lines of communication. Where many folks get stuck are the impacts of the dry spell and expectations attached to sex. For example, not feeling connected to each other, getting in our heads or assuming that it’s an attack on our sexual attractiveness. It is always worth taking inventory of what’s initially caused it and what keeps it going, and seeing if there’s space for change.

How do we reconnect after a relationship dry spell?

Finding your way through a dry spell in your relationship can be tricky but it doesn’t have to be. Most people know how to have sex, it's often everything around the sex that feels uncomfortable or awkward like initiating, touching, flirting and getting re-familiar. The best thing we can do is bring it back to the basics: communicate about what's possible and what you want for this season of your lives, centre pleasure and all that yummy goodness, and savour it. Here are some tangible steps that you can start with and share with your partner:

  • Talk about what a fullfilling sex life means to you. Great sex is never about quantity, it’s about quality. Dry spells are a great reset button. 

  • Schedule touch time in. Not sex. Read it again. Scheduling sex can create pressure to perform, so just schedule in time to remember how good touch feels.

  • Build on small experiences. Ending a dry spell isn’t just about the sex. It’s often about what it’s built on - flirting, touch, play, excitement, curiosity.

  • Rethink foreplay. As the icon Esther Perel says, “foreplay begins at the end of your last orgasm.”

  • Let it be awkward. Laugh about it together.

  • Touch for the sake of touch. Because it’s pleasurable and connecting. Not because it ‘should’ lead to sex. Sensing a theme here?

  • Non-reciprocal touch. Just because your partner wants to give, doesn’t mean you have to every time as well and vice versa. Talk about these expectations. This helps manage differences in energy, time or preferences.

Good luck.



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