It’s not unusual for a couple in a long-term relationship to experience boredom, especially in the bedroom. Sometimes it’s called the seven-year itch. But the problem can show up earlier or later in a marriage or long-term committed relationship.
This problem tends to affect men more than women and there is a physiological reason for this difference. During sex, both men and women produce plenty of dopamine, the thrill hormone. Dopamine produces feelings of intense pleasure. It’s a real high, but in men, dopamine levels can drop quickly leading to a desire to repeat the experience.
Unfortunately, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases with repetition of the same experience. Studies show that more dopamine is released with novel experiences so there can be a real drive, especially with men, to do something new and different to get the same dopamine high and spice up the bedroom.
What a Woman Feels?
With women the situation is different. Serotonin and oxytocin have a stronger effect on women’s nervous systems and are a major part of the reward system for women. Men and women have the same experience of orgasm as determined by a comparison of written descriptions. But the feelings of closeness and the desire to snuggle after sex give the act deeper meaning for women.
The problem is that serotonin tends to dampen sexual desire and the ability to have an orgasm. Snuggling up and watching a TV show or movie at home may be a nice experience for the man. But it can be more deeply rewarding and satisfying for the woman. For both men and women in a long-term relationship, serotonin levels tend to rise over time and give them a real feeling of comfort in being together.
Those good feelings of comfort set in for both the man and the woman when they come home. The relationship becomes a very comforting blanket that is an antidote for the stress and turmoil of the outside world. This is a very good thing for a relationship, but at the same time, these feelings of comfort can reduce sexual desire and pleasure. This is where bedroom boredom can set in.
Try Something New
What can a couple do? The answer lies in the fact that novelty increases dopamine levels. Doing something new to spice up the bedroom can turn the situation around if it’s done right. The challenge lies in the different approach that men and women have to new situations, especially when it comes to sex.
Often for men, if one new thing in the bedroom is exciting, then three are better and ten are fantastic. But for most women, one new experience may be interesting, but two or three new things at once can be overwhelming. That’s why you need to explore this area together. Going on a special date is a great way to explore new feelings.
Hitting the Restart Button
You can start to rekindle the feelings of romance and excitement with a date or a weekend vacation to a new place. It’s a way of pushing the restart button. You are looking to get back to those feelings of novelty and excitement that you had when you were first dating.
Now, there are some important rules to follow. First of all, don’t try to work through conflicts or problems on your date. Leave your troubles behind. Also, you want to make sure you get higher dopamine levels instead of producing lots of comforts, so no discussions of what’s going on with the children. That only awakens thoughts of home and raises your serotonin levels.
Occasionally a couple will go out on a date and do nothing but worry about how the children are at home. Is the babysitter the right one? Are the kids getting to bed on time? And so on. By worrying they are actually keeping those secure, serotonin-based feelings going and avoiding the novel experience.
Novelty requires getting outside your comfort zone a little bit and taking a chance. You really don’t need to do something crazy to spice up the bedroom. Going too far out of your comfort zone can leave you feeling raw and unwilling to try something again. So once again it’s what works for both of you.
Some couples are naturally more adventurous than others and are already exploring some of the things I am about to suggest here. Others need a little push. With some couples when I have made suggestions in an individual session with the husband he said, “Well that is a good suggestion, I would like to talk to my wife about these things. But I know my wife will be too uncomfortable and will reject anything I ask for outright.”
Sometimes I found that to be true of his wife. But other times I found he was assuming what his wife would feel. The wife would often say “He never told me that he wanted anything different.” She would then add “I would be far more comfortable if we had been able to talk about it.” Sometimes the wife says, “I just needed to get comfortable with the idea and understand what it was he wanted or needed.”
Some husbands have carefully tried to do a little something without talking about it and that worked. I am always telling my patients that men bring awareness and knowledge of sex into a relationship and women bring awareness and knowledge about relationships.
This is where role-playing comes in. For instance, if you’re going out on a dinner date, you really are doing a bit of role-playing already, because you’re pretending like this is one of your first dates. And when you see it as role-playing it’s a lot easier to leave the kids, the chores and any relationship issues behind.
For novelty some couples like more elaborate role-playing. There’s the tried and true routine of the naughty maid who seduces her employer and now there is the new fantasy of the vampire coming into the bedroom of the unsuspecting maiden. I’m not sure how a zombie fantasy would work, but for some people, it might be fun. Whatever turns both of you on can be used to spice up the bedroom. Since you have to work out the scenario beforehand there’s a good chance that you’ll both be on the same page and cook up something that’s fun for each of you.
Another new thing to try is using sex toys. There are hundreds of possibilities, but what really matters is bringing in toys that appeal to both of you and doing it gradually. One good way to start is to get a couple of catalogs and go through them together. She’s probably going to find the catalogs specifically designed for women more appealing.
You really do need to talk this over together because the woman really has to be comfortable with the choices. You may think that a vibrating butt plug for her will be really exciting since you’ll both be feeling the vibration during intercourse. But she might find that’s one of the most disgusting things she’s ever heard of. Or she may like the idea. That’s why you need to talk about it.
Maybe she likes the idea of tickling with feathers or rubbing a little cinnamon oil on her nipples which causes a slight warm tingling. And he might find that a bit boring. Still, it might be worth trying because she might find it very exciting and that’s going to get the juices flowing for both of you. (Important note: don’t use straight cinnamon oil. It can cause serious burns. Use the commercial sensuous oils that are properly prepared and safe.)
Now tickling with feathers might not work at all. That’s where you need a good transition to take a different approach. Something like, “Oh, who needs feathers when I’ve got you.” Even if the sex toy doesn’t work, trying something new introduces a bit of novelty into the situation and increases dopamine levels so you can forget about the toy and get on with your usual sexual activity.
There is another big advantage to talking it over. By discussing and evaluating sex toys you are already engaging in a novel behavior and beginning to spice up the bedroom. It involves imagining how they work and what they will feel like. You are getting more dopamine circulating in your nervous system without all that comforting serotonin.
So you’ve settled on something to try. Now here’s an important piece of advice for men. You want to focus on her, not on the toy. That might seem a bit contradictory. Here you are engaging in something new sexually and yet you need to avoid putting a big emphasis on it. Yet this is very important.
I’ve worked with plenty of couples where the man introduced something new into their sexual relationship like a sex toy and then the woman felt like the toy was more important to him than she was. It was like he was there to have sex with the toy, not with her.
Now that’s easy for a man to do. His emphasis is on the thrill hormone, dopamine, while she wants both the excitement from dopamine and the intimacy that comes from serotonin and oxytocin. The reward systems for men and women operate a little differently in sex and if a man forgets that fact he can easily get himself into trouble. But if he’s aware of her need for intimacy and romance, he can always keep her happy.
Another way to bring novelty into lovemaking is through the things you do. We’ve already talked about role-playing and for some couples, it can be very exciting.
You can also bring new sexual techniques into the bedroom. Actually, one couple discovered just going with what she liked and doing things that worked for her made all the difference. He had been doing what he learned in porn and not paying attention to what worked for her. A new approach was all they needed.
So rather than starting with something absolutely crazy, experiment with something simple. For a lot of men learning new techniques of nipple stimulation can liven up the bedroom. Sometimes it might be her playing with his nipples, but usually, it’s him playing with hers.
Let’s be honest here. For a lot of men stimulating her nipples begins with some rubbing and pinching and a little sucking before getting down to business. Being playful and trying out different kinds of stimulation can do a lot for her. The nipple, the areola and the ducts leading from the breast glands to the nipple all have different sensations.
You can gently pinch the nipple, roll it between your fingers and tickle the end with the tip of your finger. With the areola, you can gently rub it with your fingers and lick it with your tongue. If you work your fingers from the nipple down a bit, you begin to stimulate the milk ducts which produce different sensations from the other parts. In general, stimulating the nipple area leads to lubrication and pleasant sensations in the genital area.
When it comes to using your mouth don’t just clamp on and suck away. There’s a lot of you can do that provides stimulation and exciting sensations. Nibbling the nipple with your lips and using your tongue to lick and flick can produce very erotic sensations. Also just blowing on a wet nipple can cause the areola to tighten up, which can give her a lot of new feelings. The key here as in other areas where you are exploring novelty is to check out how she feels and be guided by what she likes.
As a woman reaches higher and higher levels of excitement she becomes less sensitive to pain. This is an effect of serotonin and endorphins, the natural morphine-like h0rmone in the body, which can reduce awareness of pain. As she approaches orgasm, pinching her nipples more forcefully may help her go over the top and release. What might be very uncomfortable early in lovemaking becomes exciting farther along. But this process can’t be rushed and it isn’t the same every time.
Forceful pinching too soon can be painful and a complete turn-off. Some women have very sensitive nipples and don’t like forceful play at any time. This is where a man needs to stay in touch with his partner and learn what works for her and when.
You can set up a communication system before making love. She might give an occasional moan when it feels good and has another sound like a high pitched “EEE” when it is uncomfortable or hurts. Here’s where the tone of voice can make a big difference. The sound can be kind of playful, but serious, or it can be unpleasant and even accusatory. Responding right away can keep it playful and still liven up the bedroom.
Set up a communication system that works for both of you. When you’re making love to a woman you aren’t just applying some formula. You are in bed with someone you love and you need to stay in tune with her. The same works for the man. You don’t want to have her doing something that is painful while you do your manly best not to complain.
These are some guidelines for introducing novelty into your lovemaking routine and hopefully with some creativity and a lot of love you can both have a great time and banish bedroom boredom.
2. Vance, E. Wagner, N. (1976) Written Descriptions of Orgasm: A Study of Sex Differences. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Vol. 5, No. 1.
3. Bently, N. What is Serotonin and how does it affect you? Your Tango. http://www.yourtango.com/experts/nancy-lee-bentley-wholistic-health-expert/how-serotonin-affects-your-sex-drive
4. Wood, S. (2008) Anatomy and physiology of pain. Nursingtimes.net. http://www.nursingtimes.net/nursing-practice/specialisms/pain-management/anatomy-and-physiology-of-pain/1860931.article