How Sex at Bedtime Can Ruin Your Love Life
If love making has become boring and routine, it might be that you are falling into the trap of letting sex become the P.S. to the day - the last effort of an exhausted mind and body.
It might be convenient - after all, when else are both of you in bed together? - but soon the lovemaking lacks energy and becomes less and less appealing.
Jane, 37, says:
“It always starts the same way, he snakes his hand over from his side of the bed onto my thigh and at that point I have to decide whether I’m interested or not. No warm up, no persuading and if I refuse, the cold shoulder.”
Some couples might use bedtime sex as the comforting foundation of their love life, spicing it up with less regular but more creative sex at other times.
But others can move into a state of boredom where this is all that’s happening; one partner feels their needs are not being met; and disconnection escalates.
For many, the result is a drift into the low-sex or no-sex relationship that’s becoming increasingly common.
But there’s no other time….
If sex has become a fast, tired and unsatisfying add-on to a long day, we probably know things aren’t quite right. So what stops us from breaking out of the routine?
As a relationship counsellor the number one excuse I hear is children (and not exclusively very young ones). Alec, the father of three children under ten, told me:
We were worried that the kids might barge in if we had sex at any time they’re awake. But by bedtime we were always too tired to actually enjoy love making.
I suggested locking the door, and at first I was met with a lot of resistance. Alec explained:
Finally we did decide it didn’t make us bad parents. Now we enjoy our Saturday mornings and the kids normally watch TV. The first time they couldn’t just barge in there were awkward questions, but they seemed to accept that mummy and daddy needed some time alone together.
It is absolutely vital to have somewhere private to be intimate together. The famous sex therapists, Master and Johnson, discovered the most effective part of their whole treatment programme was that couples stayed in nearby motels - and therefore, unlike at home, had the freedom to make love whenever they wished.
If a locked door still sounds like a bad idea, setting the alarm an hour earlier in the morning can transform lovemaking into a sexual appetiser for the day rather than a soggy leftover.
Claire and Rob settled for something in between. Claire reported:
By the time my head hit the pillow I was too tired for anything but sleep, so we started putting the alarm on for two hours earlier. We are fresh for sex and rested enough to enjoy each other. I love slowly drifting back off to sleep in Rob’s arms.
If you want passionate sex, tidy up
Although there are lots of other places to make love, the bedroom still remains most couples’ favourite location. So it is important to take a long hard look at whether the atmosphere there is a turn on.
The truth is the bedroom is often an anxiety-filled environment. Many couples have their biggest fights there! While couples are almost unanimously resistant to locking the door for lovemaking, they’re more than happy to fence off the bedroom for arguments.
If at all possible, keep the bedroom as your space for love and connection, and take the rows elsewhere.
And if your bedroom is messy and less than clean, you have that rather rare thing: an easily solvable marriage problem. In couple therapy I often ask my clients to describe their bedrooms and it is amazing that any lovemaking happens there at all. Many have flu remedies, folders from work and household bills on the bedside table.
The most extreme example was a couple whose dog slept in a crate by the bed, apparently he yelped during the night and this way the husband could reach over and give the cage a knock with a slipper!
Drastic changes are necessary and the most important is lighting. Scientists have discovered that making love exclusively in the dark or with harsh artificial lighting deprives us of a natural sexual stimulant to the pineal and pituitary glands - vital for arousal.
Try to create natural, soft full-spectrum lighting instead and let your love life see a little bit of light. Sexual soundproofing is also important. Not only do we not want to be overheard but the rattles and clicks from the rest of the house need to be shut out too.
The answer is to install a sound system in the bedroom; and choose music with no strong theme, vocals or changes in beat. Making up your own sexy compilations can be lots of fun, and a nice way to reminisce together over the heady early days of your relationship.
The final sense to stimulate, beyond the obvious, is smell. This can range from opening a window for fresh air, through to scented candles and air purifiers. Think of everything possible to stop your bedroom from being boring, utilitarian or sensually cluttered.
Top tips for making your bedroom more passionate:
Remove all family photographs. Their watching faces are the wrong kind of distraction.
Make sure the room is warm enough. We prefer to sleep at a lower temperature than we want to make love.
Chose warm tones for your colour scheme.
Don’t allow pets to sleep in your bedroom.
Use your imagination to add a sensual personal touch like a large mirror to watch yourselves making love.
Is planned sex too boring?
While bedtime sex is something you literally fall into, lovemaking at other times means planning. I am constantly surprised by the resistance in my counselling room to planning. Normally the response is: “we just want to be spontaneous.”
This is mainly a hang over from our Victorian past which taught us that sex was dirty and only allowed when our fevered emotions got the better of us. Planning admits we enjoy sex. Rob says:
“I’d take a lot of time over meals; reading recipe books or booking a table at a hot new restaurant, but sex was always like a quick takeaway. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy a quickie - or convenience food - but now planning is half the anticipation and the fun of sex.”
Increasing demands from work and the fast pace of modern life means without prioritising, lovemaking comes bottom of the list of chores - after cleaning the lint out of the tumble drier!
Perhaps the other major reason behind the resistance to planning sex is a fear of not being in the mood when the appointed time arrives. Therefore it is important to keep your ‘date with lovemaking’ flexible, so a cuddle in front of the television or a walk together holding hands are equally acceptable outcomes.
Remember you can still have ‘spontaneous sex,’ just add ‘planned sex’ to your repertoire.
Break free from the bedroom
A change of scenery can be a great idea, and it doesn’t have to be a weekend in Paris. Even trying out a different location can spark our sexual creativity. Looking at my casebook, the top five alternative locations for lovemaking are:
The living room.
The great outdoors
Yes, the car is more of an athletic challenge as we get older, and nature can present some definite obstacles, but if you break out of the bedroom occasionally, you’ll relish the shared memory of those more risk-charged encounters, which then become a turn-on.
Starting the conversation
All of these changes involve talking to your partner about sex. Often, we underestimate just how hard this can be.
If you've had reasonably longstanding sexual problems, a therapist can really help navigate the two of you through the hurt and confusion associated with this.
If your problems are a little more recent and less ingrained, however, you might feel ready to talk.
Sadly, communicating our needs can easily be heard by our partner as a criticism of their performance. How do you avoid this? Firstly don’t talk about the past: “it’s been a bit dull lately” can easily be seized on by somebody with low self-esteem.
Instead, concentrate on the future: “I’d really like us to set aside more time for love making”. Discussing the right environment (candles and getting the room temperature right) can even lead on to communicating personal needs.
Thirty-nine-year-old Sarah reported:
When we broke out of our old routine; fixed up the bedroom a bit; packed the children off to my parents for Saturday afternoon; and left our phones downstairs, it was like a whole new experience. Relaxed and fun!
Top tips for discussing sex:
Don’t discuss sexual problems in the bedroom - find somewhere neutral.
Be prepared to listen more than talk. Take turns to listen for five minutes without interrupting, afterwards repeat back the essence of what you’ve heard.Next switch roles.
Try showing rather than telling, and guide their hand to where it feels nice. If they are too rough raise your hand slightly, they’ll soon get the message. Too soft, and press their hand down firmly.
Risk telling the truth. Some of us are so worried about upsetting our partners, we are struck dumb. But if they don’t know, how can they change?
Don’t be afraid to share your fantasies.
If you’d like a guide to working on your sexual relationship, I have written Have the Sex You Want: a Couple’s Guide to Getting Back the Spark. It is a step-by-step program to help the two of you reconnect gently and lovingly.
In other news, my discussion with therapist Dr Avrum Weiss on anger in relationships was one of the most popular The Meaningful Life podcast episodes yet. Dr Weiss has spent his career researching the emotional lives of men, and had some powerful insights to share for men and women both. Highly recommended.
And as always, if it feels like the right time to start marital therapy, send an email to Tricia (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a virtual or in-person appointment with one of my team of therapists in London, or with me here in Berlin.
All names have been changed, and sources are based on impressions from a variety of cases, not on individuals.