SEX

The Secret To Good Sex In A Long-Term Relationship

Pro-tip: Act like your relationship is a Skinemax movie

SEX
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Feb 25, 2016 at 4:39 PM ET

It turns out candles, lingerie, and jazzy tunes are more than romantic cliches—they might actually kinda work. At least, that’s according to a new study of long-term heterosexual relationships finding that sexually satisfied couples regularly engage in these and other forms of foreplay and mood-setting.

Sexually successful couples’ lives don’t look exactly like gauzy, soft-focus films, though: They were also more likely to have experimented with sexual variety—from anal stimulation to acting out sexual fantasies to using a sex toy together. And they had sex and orgasms more frequently.

“It was encouraging to learn that more than one-third of couples kept passion alive, even after a decade or two together,” said Janet Lever, a study co-author. “That won’t happen on auto pilot; these couples made a conscious effort to ward off routinization of sex.”

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The study, published in The Journal of Sex Research, surveyed more than 38,747 heterosexual men and women in the United States who had been with their partner for at least three years. Researchers had participants rate their sexual satisfaction currently and in the first six months of the relationship. The majority, 83 percent, said they were sexually satisfied at the start. Ah, but passion does often wane: Just over half, 55 percent, said they were presently satisfied with their sex lives, while the rest either felt neutral or dissatisfied.

Satisfied couples were far more likely to have experimented with sexual variety. For example, among dissatisfied men and women, 33 and 45 percent respectively said they or their partner had worn sexy lingerie or underwear in the past month. But among their satisfied counterparts those numbers rose dramatically to 67 and 71 percent. Consider the percentage that reported recently trying a new sexual position: 22 and 25 percent of unhappy men and women, compared to 59 and 63 percent of their sexually stoked counterparts.

The aforementioned cheesy, mood-setting measures also saw higher, although much less dramatic, numbers among the sexually satisfied: 23 and 20 percent of contented folks reported lighting a candle or dimming the lights during their last sexual encounter, compared to 11 and 9 percent among the dissatisfied. (You heard it here first: Candles can’t compete with anal play.)

Fulfilled couples also, as David Frederick, lead author of the study, put it, “practiced effective sexual communication.” It’s true: satisfied folks were far more likely to report praising their partners in bed or their partner asking for something they wanted in bed. But it’s also somewhat startling just how little sex talk there was, even among the happy couples. Satisfied or not, more people tried out sexy lingerie and undies in the last year than asked their partners in the past month for feedback on how something felt during sex. In fact, more men across the board reported experimenting with anal stimulation than having a partner who “asked for something they wanted in bed.”

It’s important to note that the study didn’t establish causation, so we can’t say that lingerie or candles directly lead to sexual satisfaction—maybe the sexually satisfied are simply more open to exploration! Or maybe those who are open to exploration are more sexually satisfied. Frederick points out that the two groups respond very differently when it comes to tips found in articles just like this one. ”Almost half of satisfied and dissatisfied couples read sexual self-help books and magazine articles,” said Frederick, “but what set sexually satisfied couples apart was that they actually tried some of the ideas.” No pressure.