Do you remember how you felt about your partner at the beginning of your relationship?
Butterflies in your stomach, heart racing, breath catching in your throat and an overwhelming desire to have sex with the object of your desire — right then and there.
If you’re in a long-term relationship, there’s a good chance those feelings have sadly passed. But, if it’s any consolation, sex therapist and relationship counsellor Desiree Spierings says you’re not alone.
“That phase can’t last, otherwise you would never go to work again. You are too obsessed with that person and it has to change,” she said.
Much of the sexual chemistry that happens in the early days of a relationship comes down to a cocktail of hormones including dopamine, norepinephrine, phenylethylamine, estrogen and testosterone.
Similar hormones are at play when we’re talking about addiction, which explains why early in a relationship all you can think about is your partner and all you want to do is be with them “to get another fix”.
“With familiarity, and the more time you spend with one another, these hormones tend to decrease and you start to see [your partner] for who they really are,” Ms Spierings said.
“So you think ‘oh he has a bit of a belly’ or ‘she wears tracksuit pants all time’.”
But according to Ms Spierings, you don’t have to say goodbye to the idea of lusting after your partner again; and there are ways to recreate those intense feelings of sexual attraction.
Stages of love
When it comes to understanding sexual attraction — or a lack of it — Ms Spierings says it helps to think about relationships going through three distinct phases.
- Lust: there’s little in the way of emotion involved at this point. It’s all about desire and sex.
- Attraction: there’s still a lot of sex happening, but there’s also an intense emotional connection. In this phase you’re totally crazy for someone, can’t wait to see them, want to be with them all the time, and spend most of that time having sex.
- Attachment: this is the phase of a relationship where you form a bond with this person that is based on deep friendship. Your partner is more like your mate for life, and you may want to raise your children with them.
“You can pass through all three phases over time, but often as a relationship goes on, you don’t have that lust or attraction any more, but you still have the attachment,” Ms Spierings said.
According to the sex therapist, there’s nothing wrong with the attachment phase and the quieter sex life that goes with it, as long as you’re both happy.
“Initially in the limerence (infatuation) phase, both partners may have a high level of desire. But when limerence drops off, there may be a discrepancy in how much one person wants to be sexual when compared to the other.”
If you or your partner is wanting to have more sex, Ms Spierings says it’s worth making some changes in your relationship to recreate that initial sense of lust.
Scare yourself into it
Remember the feelings of infatuation you experienced early in your relationship, when you wanted to spend every waking moment with your partner having lots of sex? These feelings were caused by hormones, and these hormones are similar to the ones you produce when you experience fear.
The interplay between sexual attraction and the fear response was famously explored in Canada in the 1970s in the Capilano Bridge study.