the best thing you can do for your sex life: couple communicating via an old telephone

Ever wondered why you generally feel like sex far more when you’re on holiday than you do on an average day? Or why at the start of your relationship you might have felt your interest in sex was far higher than it is now that you have started a family? It’s a really simple but powerful reason… context.

Why context matters when it comes to sex

Let me give you an example – you’re standing in your kitchen cooking something for dinner. The kids have been difficult going to sleep and you’ve had a tough day at work. Your partner comes into the kitchen and kisses your neck. You are likely going to think, “not a chance buddy!” But, in that same scenario, imagine the kids are either easily asleep or out for the night, and you’ve had a fun, easy day. Your partner comes into the kitchen and kisses your neck. Chances are you might think, “Okay, I’m keen to see where this goes…” Context is what makes all the difference here, and it’s what matters the most for our desire and interest in sex.

Context speaks to not only what’s going on around you, but to your headspace and relationship wellbeing too. If the house alarm is going off or your baby is crying, it’s the wrong context for your brain to step into wanting sex. If you are feeling hurt or upset by something your partner said or did, it’s the wrong context for your brain to step into wanting sex. If you’re trying to survive a global pandemic and all the mental health concerns that have been a growing part of most of our experiences, it’s the wrong context for your brain to step into wanting to have sex. Hopefully, by now you get the point.

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How to create the right context for sex

1. Be an active part of creating the best possible context for sex

This means being intentional with how you show appreciation and love for one another outside of the bedroom. It means communicating openly and honestly with each other so that there is less time spent on resentment, anger, hurt or disappointment. It’s being intentional with planning to be sexual (especially when you have small kids). And it’s about sharing with your partner what you want or what you need both emotionally and sexually.

ribbons shaped into hearts: the best thing you can do for your sex life

2. Understand your differences

One of the biggest predictors of desire discrepancy in a relationship is believing that one partner has high desire and the other partner has low desire. ALL couples will experience discrepancy in how much they want to have sex. Accepting this as normal and being able to communicate and connect in other ways is actually protective for your relationship. Further to this is accepting that you might like different types of sex, and talking about this so that both of your sexual needs are met. This all helps create a safe context for a couple.

3. Set the scene

If you think that you’ll get aroused for sex the moment your partner initiates it, you’d be wrong. Arousal is like a slow cooker – it takes consistency over time for things to heat up and be ready! So working to create the right context for sex means that you are flirting, engaging intimately and building up the anticipation for sex before it even happens. It’s like preparing all the ingredients before you add them to the slow cooker – the prep is a crucial step that cannot be missed or rushed.

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4. Practice mindfulness

Study after study has now shown how effective regular mindfulness practice can be for improving our sex lives. Start by practicing mindfulness on your own, away from the experience of sex (I suggest using an app like Headspace if you’re new to mindfulness). Once you’re familiar with practicing mindfulness, bring this into your experience of sex (and by sex, I mean everything you do sexually). Focus on touch, temperature and pressure when you and partner are together. Bring your focus of attention to this only. If your mind wanders, gentle and kindly bring yourself back to focusing on those three things. Mindfulness takes practice, and it’s being consistent with it that makes the biggest difference to our experience.

Catriona is an accredited clinical sexologist, psychotherapist, sexuality researcher & speaker. She is an expert in the field of sexual behaviour, intimacy, relationships and mental well-being, with a particular interest in helping people create or reestablish sexual intimacy and empowering women to embrace their sexuality. She has delivered her expertise across media, business and private platforms and is a globally recognised voice in the field of sex, pleasure and relationships. She runs a global practice online, consulting with clients from around the world, but has a practice in Johannesburg, South Africa and London, United Kingdom.