Hello there! Yes, you, making an elaborate omelet while gazing across the hall at your neatly-made bed, your partner’s pin-striped pajamas crumpled on top of your comforter, wondering whatever happened to the real breakfast of champions. Researchers have uncovered some of the answers in a recent study, which investigated declines in sexual activity over the course of couples’ romantic relationships.1 Participants were 2,855 Germans between the ages of 25 and 41 who were married, cohabitating, or living in separate homes. Since the U.S. and Germany share similar views on cohabitation before marriage, results could be applicable to Americans as well.
And now for the findings you’ve been waiting for while sprinkling paprika on those blue heirloom eggs! Through annual personal interviews conducted over the course of three years, researchers discovered that decreases in sexual frequency were often linked with shifts into new stages of the relationship and stressors on the couple. Interview questions about romantic relationships and family were supplemented with survey questions about sexual frequency (asked through a computer interface to promote candidness). Results revealed that sexual frequency had more to do with how long couples had been together than with whether they were living together or married. That is, couples showed sharp declines in sexual frequency during the second year of their relationship (five times less per month than during the first six months of their relationship), followed by slower declines through the next two years. Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, neither excitement about getting married nor about moving in together increased couples’ sexual frequency. However, pregnancy and parenthood shaped couples’ sexual frequency; couples had sex less often during pregnancy and during the first six years of parenthood. Unsurprisingly, couples’ relationships outside the bedroom also influenced their relationships in the bedroom. Keeping lines of communication open, being honest and respectful toward each other, and maintaining emotional intimacy led to more frequent sex.
The trajectory of couples’ sexual relationships may seem grim from this analysis; indeed, it is natural for passionate love to transition to a more companionate, friendly love over time. However, it appears possible, with some effort and creativity, for couples to prolong the honeymoon stage of their sex life by introducing fresh and exciting elements into the bedroom, such as new sexual positions, toys, role-playing scenarios, erotica, and the like, as well as by simply trying to foster communication, respect, and emotional intimacy.
In fact, other recent research2 has shown that expanding yourself throughout a long-term relationship by developing new hobbies, interests, and characteristics (both inside and outside of the bedroom) can revitalize romantic passion. Luckily, opportunities to see yourself and your partner in a new light present themselves as your lives unfold together. For example, after a couple’s children have moved out and had kids of their own, the members of the couple get to see how their partner interacts with their grandchildren. According to other studies,3 self-expansion can continue many years into a relationship if partners consistently engage in new activities together that challenge and interest them. Providing oneself and one’s partner with opportunities to see each other in a new light can help reignite the original spark that brought them together and reawaken desire. Together, these studies suggest that active self-expansion may make it possible to carry passion and sexual frequency into long-term romantic relationships.
1 Schröder, J., & Schmiedeberg, C. (2015). Effects of relationship duration, cohabitation, and marriage on the frequency of intercourse in couples: Findings from German panel data. Social Science Research, 52, 72-82.
2 Sheets, V. L. (2014). Passion for life: Self-expansion and passionate love across the life span. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31(7), 958-974.
3 Mattingly, B. A., & Lewandowski, G. W., Jr. (2014). Broadening horizons: Self-expansion in relational and non-relational contexts. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 8(1), 30-40.
Christine Lavosky – Website/CV
Christine Lavosky is a graduate from Emerson College who uses her minor in Psychology to develop complex, realistic characters for her novel in progress as well as her creative non-fiction. She is particularly interested in the psychological phenomena that come into play in romantic relationships and trauma and uses empirical studies and research on these topics to inform her fiction.
Dr. Lindsey Beck – Articles | Website/CV
Dr. Beck’s research examines how people initiate and develop close relationships, including why some people—but not others—choose to avoid situations that would help them form relationships, how partners ask for and offer support as they develop relationships, and how couples respond to stressful situations in newly-formed relationships.