For many, sex is a crucial part of a romantic relationship. And yet, the correlation between long-term partnership and a decline in doin' it is all too real for many couples.
A 2017 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that married or long-term couples were having sex less and less frequently over the period from 1989 to 2014. It's enough to send our cold, cynical, commitment-averse hearts running to the forever-single hills.
Sure, life gets in the way and priorities change. But should sex really be less important? Not if you ask these five couples, whose sex lives are just as robust now as they were at their steamy starts.
Read on to learn how couples who have been together 10, 20 years or more keep the passion alive, how often they're really doing it, and what advice they have for couples going through a dry spell.
Some names have been changed for privacy.
Michelle & Alison
Michelle and Alison, both 35, have been together for 17 years and married for eight.
Has frequency of sex always been consistent in your relationship?
It ebbs and flows, but always comes back around with intensity. We have been through a dry spell, and we make sure to set aside time to get back on track. Even if it's just one [time] every couple of weeks, then we start to get back to more frequency.
Sexual playfulness keeps the spark alive. My wife knows I love to be bitten, have my hair pulled, etc. So she will come up to me randomly and bite my neck, even if it's not going to lead to sex due to bedtimes, dinner or whatever. That creates an anticipation and intensity like no other. Her triggers are gentle tickling and whispers in her ear.
It ebbs and flows, but always comes back around with intensity.
How do you define "good" sex?
I think it has changed over the years. Early in our relationship, we would spend hours having sex, and that just isn't realistic now. We both reminisce about how awesome our early relationship sex was. But just the other night, my wife said she had the best orgasm she's ever had.
Sheree & Doug
Sheree, 54, and Doug, 59, have been together for 34 years.
How did you meet?
We met when he was my supervisor on the midnight shift at UPS while I was unloading trucks.
People who believe in or cave in to the stereotype that sex ends after a certain point just aren't willing to work at it.
Has frequency of sex always been consistent in your relationship?
Our sex life has always been an active and fulfilling one. The few times there have been a few months of a physical dry spell due to illness, depression of one of us, or a death in the family (all those in the last five years), we've always been verbally active. I always make sure he knows how attractive he is and how attracted to him I am. There has to be that flame that the other always knows is burning, even if the flame is a little low.
Why do you think some couples end up making sex less of a priority?
People who believe in or cave in to the stereotype that sex ends after a certain point just aren't willing to work at it. And it does take work sometimes. I'm not beyond harassing or even begging (seriously). At that point, Doug knows how into him I still am. Just like when I first saw him walk into my truck at UPS.
What advice do you have for those couples?
You can't take the easy road into the sunset of your years together. Make it happen, or the risk of losing any passion is too scary and real.
Jessica & Robert
Jessica, 46, and Robert, 45, have been married for 21 years.
"The plot twist is that our relationship is not physically exclusive," Jessica told HuffPost. "We have a very active, very happy sex life, just the two of us, but we also share sexual contact with other partners."
Has your relationship gone through any dry spells? How did you get through it?
My husband suffered through a depression, and later a rather bad injury in his back. Those periods could be considered "dry spells." I also went through a depression at the beginning of my second pregnancy, but sex was already rather rare. Getting through those experiences was a combination of communication, transparency and self-reliance. The problem that can and does arise is one of trust: Do I trust my partner enough that when he says that it is not that he no longer desires me, I actually believe him?
This line of questioning goes both ways in the relationship, and being physically nonexclusive adds a whole nother level of complexity to it. Dry spells have (mercifully) been few and far between, and there has always been a physical, measurable reason behind them. We have always found it prudent and wise, though, to refrain from engaging sexually with other people when we were going through one. So getting through "dry spells" has also involved closing up the cocoon around us, recreating our space, our bubble, rediscovering our zone. It is an intense exercise, as it demands complete transparency and trust.
It took us a while to get into our zone, but when we did find it, there was no going back!
Has consistent sex always been something that happened organically, or have you had to work on it?
We were both in our early 20s when we started out as a couple. Neither of us had much experience, maybe two or three lovers prior. I had, in fact, gone through an abusive relationship some months before engaging with my man. Simply put, sex started out awkward. It took us a while to get into our zone, but when we did find it, there was no going back!
And then there's the lifestyle. We have both had sex with a lot of different people by now, and we find we are much more at ease and relaxed than we were in our first encounters. This also reflects on our private moments, as we have both gained confidence in our individual appeal and in asking for what we really want when we are having sex.
What do you make of the stereotype that people stop having sex as their relationship goes on?
I personally feel there can hardly be smoke without a fire to produce it ― so there has to be some truth to it. In fact, we have enough friends and acquaintances (swinging and non) grumbling about it to know it can and does happen. A partnership, whatever its nature, requires work. Partners get mired in details, chores, the million things that need to be done to keep an even keel. Regrettably, personal aspects tend to take a back seat. People actually forget that everyone involved, themselves included, is an actual person and not an inanimate object.
Anne & Austin
Anne, 30, and Austin, 35, have been together for 10 years.
Has your sex life been consistent throughout your whole relationship?
Yes and no. We have our waves of sex every night, and we have our moments of no sex for a month. It's consistently inconsistent, if that makes sense. Our kiddos still try sneaking into our bed at night, so obviously that is the game changer!
Do you watch porn together or do anything to spice things up?
Not together. He watches porn, and I am OK with it. Frankly, I can tell when he has been watching it because he starts branching out and tries new things on me. It's exciting. I benefit from it, so it's OK in my book!
What advice do you have for couples who are going through a dry spell?
Don't sweat it. Seriously. We've had a dry spell for months before. In my opinion and experience, it's super normal. You may not like it, but it's normal! It doesn't have to mean anything is wrong with your relationship, or that someone is cheating or whatever one might think. Life gets the best of us sometimes. Whether you're stressed out, busy, or merely just got comfortable and don't feel the pressure to perform all of the time, it will pass.
I can tell when he has been watching [porn] because he starts branching out and tries new things on me. It's exciting.
Lily & Gary
Lily, 50, and Gary, 56, have been together for 18 years.
What advice would you give couples going through a dry spell?
I think people use the excuse "I'm too busy" or "too tired" to get out of having sex, but it might actually make you feel better if you had more sex. It has done wonders for my self-esteem to feel desired, and it has done the same for my husband. I view intimacy as another form of communication. We are grateful for our sex life. Sadly, it's not lost on us that we are the exception when we hear other couples or read articles.
Has your idea of good sex changed over the years?
Yes. Good sex is not coerced, and each partner should want to please the other person. We have never taken a class, but from time to time we enjoy porn. My husband was the one who got me my first toy. Being raised by a very conservative mom, sex toys were unthinkable. And being a Latin woman, they were considered an affront to men in my culture. How dare us women try to seek sexual pleasure with anything that wasn't my husband.