Scientific research usually isn’t that sexy, but here’s a big exception: neuroscience is uncovering some secrets to long-lasting passion.

The good news is that the sexual spark doesn’t have to go out just because you’ve been together for, you know, ages. In fact, statistics show that married people do the horizontal mambo more than anybody else—which shouldn’t really be surprising, since they always find themselves in bed next to their spouse the end of the night (first rule of sex: proximity is essential).

But statistics also show that the longer we are married, the less frequently we do it. So clearly, proximity isn’t everything—even if you are getting it on more than your sex-and-the-city friends, for some couples, marital sex loses its heat over time.

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Here are some suggestions for putting the va-voom back in your bedroom.

(1) Moan. Or talk clearly. Remember that one of the keys to sexual pleasure is to get what you want. As nice as it would be to have a partner that can read your mind, they don’t exist, especially in the opposite-sex variety.

So heat things up a bit with some home-grown porn-star moaning to let your partner know when they are doing it right. If the “warmer… warmer…” approach isn’t getting you there, try a little dirty talk to offer more direct suggestions, or to praise previous acts that you are hoping will be repeated. (Ever used that specific, growth-mindset praise with your kids? Try it in bed if you want a high-achieving spouse.) If you blush just thinking about saying dirty words out loud, start quietly and whisper them to your partner at first.

(2) End the stalemate. Here’s the Catch-22: Women report that they are too tired for sex because their spouses don’t acknowledge how hard their lives are, often balancing the lion’s share of the housework and childcare with work outside the home. They say they’d have more energy for sex if their husbands would just write them more love-letters (any form of romance, love or affection would do), do more housework (at least don’t leave that pile of dirty laundry there for me to pick up!), and take the kids to school (don’t forget the food for the teacher appreciation pot-luck).

Men, on the other hand, report grouchiness during dry spells and say they’ll feel like writing that love poem just as soon as they get a little pickle tickle.

Stop it, you two.  The key here is to find a way to feel good enough to do the deed without making it contingent on your partner changing something.  To put your own oxygen mask on first, so to speak.  What do YOU need to do to get to that place? 

(3) Try the kitchen table. Or the shower. You’ve been doing it in the same place for a million years, and let’s face it: The marital bed just isn’t the same once a baby has slept (and nursed and pooped) there.

Research suggests that some of the drop in sexual activity comes from a loss of novelty. We humans get used to just about everything in our lives; even things we really like can become ho-hum. While our new car or new job or new just-about-anything might be thrilling at first, our nervous system adapts so that new thing isn’t so stimulating anymore.

So get some new moves on. Shake things up with as much novelty as you can think of. Change locations, positions—even the music that you play (hint: Jazz aficionados have 30 percent more sex). Say new things.

(4) Keep your eyes open. We connect with one another deeply through eye-contact, and gazing into your love’s eyes can meld your physical connection with an emotional one.

Even though it can make us feel vulnerable to maintain an eye-lock during love making, it keeps the neural circuits we need for intimacy open. (If opening your eyes makes it too hard for you to be in touch with your own senses, try slowing things down. Find your emotional connection through foreplay before going further.) If you aren’t doing it already, make an effort to keep your eyes open while you climax.

(5) Show a little tenderness. Also, take out the garbage. Did you know that an equal division of household labor is more important to marital happiness for most couples than having children is? Is an unfair division of the housework (and childcare) causing resentment and frustration in your marriage?

If it is, chances are that that resentment is spilling over into your [possibly paltry] sex life.

I’ll be addressing ways to tackle a problem like this in one of my next posts, but for this week, no matter what side of the chore war you are on, show a little tenderness towards your partner in this arena. What do you appreciate about them? How can you help reduce the stress in his or her life—practically and emotionally? When we “turn towards” our partners, as John Gottman puts it, we build intimacy and positivity. And those two things translate well in the bedroom.

What’s your best sex tip for the married-with-children set? Don’t be shy: This stuff is important. If you’ve gotten through a dry-spell with your beloved, by all means share the secret to your success. Here’s why: You’ll actually be contributing to the Greater Good. We parents learn best from each other, and kids benefit when we parents improve our relationships.

Are you enjoying this series on relationships? If so, you might like to attend the Greater Good Science Center seminar on the “Science of a Great Relationship.” Sign up here.

© 2011 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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