What are your suggestions for a couple that wants to reintroduce physical intimacy and sex into their relationship after their bedroom has been dead and physical touch is now awkward?
The feeling of awkwardness can start so soon! It's almost as if there's some kind of magnetic field (that's acting in reverse) when you've stopped being physically intimate for a while. Of course, if you're like most couples, neither of you says much about it — which makes the feeling of disconnection that much worse. In a sexless relationship you're living together as roommates instead of lovers. For many couples, life is still great in a lot of ways. You get along without much conflict. The kids are amazing. Your labradoodle is a fan favorite at the dog park. The fact that you're not intimate anymore is invisible to everyone but the two of you.
If you're honest, you know that your sex life was on life support since shortly after the kids arrived. You put it down to your busy schedules. You didn't have enough time together. COVID put that fairytale to bed. During the pandemic, you had way too much time together and sex stopped for lots of reasons that seemed good at the time. Now, here you are. It's all become awkward — even the simple affectionate things that used to help you feel closer — things like real hugs and sexy kisses.
What should you do?
1. Talk about it
Sex therapist Vanessa Marin and her husband Xander recommend a simple way to get things going again. In their new book, "Sex Talks," they recommend starting your conversation about sex by discussing intimate experiences from your past that you both remember fondly. Thinking about how it was "back then" is a lovely way to imagine becoming close again now. One of the things that I really like about this idea is that it doesn't shame either of you. You share the spark and the passion from the past as a first step to releasing current awkwardness.
If you're one of the many couples who's never really had a honeymoon period of hot sex, you'll want to start with a conversation where you imagine how it might be, what you both desire and your curiosities or fantasies.
2. Focus on pleasure and playfulness when you're both feeling ready
After you've begun to talk a little bit about sex in a way that's not filled with pressure and expectations, introduce some physical affection that feels fun and playful for you both.
Maybe dancing sounds good, or non-sexual massages, soft kissing, holding or lying on top of each other with clothes on. You could try spooning and cuddling. Some people want to experience more sexual energy together so they might allow genital touching of some sort. Oral sex could be a possibility for some. If intercourse has been your primary (or only) sexual act, you might try it sooner than others. I recommend that you not rush any of it.
3. Get away privately to reconnect
It's very helpful if you take some time away from home for a getaway together if that's possible. The sameness of your everyday routine is an intimacy buzzkill for most people. Even one night in a hotel or in a local vacation rental can change your perspective. But please don't put pressure on each other to be sexual. This is an opportunity to start reconnecting emotionally — not an edict to "do it."
4. Make connection a practice
Keep connecting as a couple when you get home. Share affection every day.
Offer sexual pleasure to your partner if and/or when you're both comfortable. Make sure you're both open to it when you decide to take the next steps. Too slow is always better than too fast, but make sure you're actually making progress — not waiting for days, weeks, months or years. You might get the support of a trusted sex positive professional to guide you if it doesn't come naturally.
I'm not against quickies, but a habit of daily disconnected quickies is what often gets couples into dead bedrooms in the first place.
You got this!
—Dr. Jane Guyn (she/her) is a well-known relationship coach who received her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality and is trained as a Professional Sex Coach and Core Energy Coach.