Everybody knows about the honeymoon phase of a relationship — those early days when you’re all over each other and can’t stop talking to all your friends (read: boring all your friends) about that person. But what we don’t talk so much about is when the initial spark starts to fade. It’s inevitable, normal and not a sign that anything is wrong with your relationship. But still, there’s a stigma around getting comfy together and the sexy times potentially drying up a little.
But people in long term relationships are starting to advocate for a different approach to sex, and they’re swearing by it, going so far as to claim that it’s saving their marriage. And that approach is scheduling sex.
“My husband and I started scheduling sex about five years into our relationship,” Claire* says. “It started out more of a casual thing, like, if we knew our daughter was staying over at a friend’s or with my Mum, then we knew we had some free time that night for us.”
Claire and her partner found that knowing they had time carved out together was actually a turn on, and they began to set dates for sex more regularly. “Literally, I’d write ‘sexy time’ or something like that in my Google calendar,” she said. “It started out as kind of a joke, but it really helped us to get the spark back. And looking forward to it was kind of hot.”
There’s an idea in society that sex needs to be spontaneous to be good. But if we start to break down where this comes from, it shows something quite revealing and problematic about how we think about sex in general. “This idea comes from the fact that we tend to focus on spontaneous desire, which really shows a fundamental lack of understanding about how human desire works,” says Gigi Engle, a certified sex educator specializing in GSRD. Spontaneous desire is the kind of sexual desire that seems to spring from nowhere or that is low-key present all the time. Basically, it’s what we tend to think of as horniness.
Engle points to writer and academic Emily Negoski, who theorized that the perceived importance of spontaneous desire in our culture is actually linked to capitalism. In essence, Negoski’s theory says that a capitalist system benefits from people feeling that it’s normal for them to be in a constant state of desire — to always be wanting something. But when it comes to sex, a lot of people don’t experience desire in this way. A lot of people experience what’s known as responsive desire. This could be your partner kissing you, watching porn or knowing that sex might be happening later.
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“Really, over time, we become more prone to responsive desire,” Engle says. “This can mean actively cultivating desire by going after sex with your partner, or even going into sex with your partner before desire has started, as a means of creating that desire.”
So scheduling sex can be a great way of fostering this responsive desire. But what happens if it gets to the scheduled day and time and you’re just not feeling it? Obviously, we’re not suggesting you force yourself to have sex if you don’t think you’ll enjoy it. Here, it’s about rethinking what we mean by sex and shifting the focus to spending time together and not setting too specific an expectation.
“The important thing is that the emphasis is not on sex, but on intimacy,” Engle says. “This can really look however you want. If you’re not in the mood for sex, you could suggest a massage or cuddling naked together and just talking. Maybe once you start doing that, sexy stuff starts happening and you do end up having sex, but there’s no pressure.”
“Sometimes it’d end up just being more like a date night,” Claire says. “But we’d try to do something a bit different or special because we’d specifically carved that time out. If we didn’t feel like having sex, we might cook together or take a walk. Basically something more interesting than just watching TV or whatever. And it gave us the time to catch up, to check in with each other in a way that maybe we weren’t doing so much before. And probably because of that, we definitely ended up having more sex, in general.”
It can be easy to let life get in the way of your relationship, especially if you live together or see each other on a very regular basis. You might start taking your partner for granted. But a sex schedule can be a great way to remember to check in, to spend quality time together and reconnect. It’s important to be flexible and not to have too set an idea of what sex is or what it should be. It’s the connection you’re looking for. If you feel closer to your partner after your scheduled time together, then you know you’re on the right track.
*Name has been changed for privacy