Every relationship reaches a sexual turning point. But that doesn't mean it has to end.


There’s a pivotal moment in most relationships, says sex expert Tracey Cox. A point at which the ‘spark’ that ignited the whole thing seems to fade a little, or perhaps a lot.

Speaking to Mamamia’s No Filter podcast, the best-selling author and columnist said that moment generally happens around 18 months in. And it can spell the end of some couples.

“They think, ‘Oh God, another one. This person’s not right for me. They must be just a friend,’ and so then they go to another person,” she said. “And it happens again.”

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That’s because, according to Cox, the 18-month mark tends to be when the love and sex hormones flooding through your body in the early stages of a relationship start to dissipate.

“When you’re in the throes of those days, they are damn powerful. They are so powerful, those hormones, that your brain’s muddled,” she said.

“If we stay in that stage forever, it’s not very helpful, is it?… It’s lovely, but you would just literally wear yourselves out.”

In relationship psychology, that period is often referred to as limerence — a term coined in 1979 by American psychologist Dorothy Tennov. It generally lasts between six and 24 months and is characterised by the release of norepinephrine, dopamine, phenylethylamine, estrogen and testosterone — a chemical cocktail that creates feelings of euphoria many people experience with lust or new love.


For some couples, the end of that period means the end of the relationship. For others, it’s the beginning of a significant shift in their sex lives. The drive or attraction won’t disappear completely, but the frequency and nature of sex will often change.

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“It’s called desensitisation,” Cox said. “If you’re with the same person every single day, of course, your body gets used to it and the appeal wears off. It’s not that you can’t see them as sexy, but your body doesn’t relate to them in that sort of natural, fierce passionate way that you do in the beginning.”

But rather than seeing this pivotal moment as something to mourn, Cox encourages couples to see it as a redefinition. Because on the other side of that shift is the release of attachment and bonding hormones — vasopressin and oxytocin — and the opportunity to settle into a meaningful long-term relationship, if you both wish to.

From there, it’s about shirking cultural myths about sex that can create tension and dissatisfaction in relationships: that you should still want to rip your partner’s clothes off after 10 years, for example, or that there’s a ‘normal’ number of times a week a couple should be having sex.

“Just because you don’t feel like sex out of the blue doesn’t mean that desire is gone,” she said. “It’s there, you just have to create desire now. It doesn’t just tap you on the shoulder like it used to.”


How to maintain a satisfying sex life in a long-term relationship.

Once that ‘desensitisation’ has happened and couples have entered into the secure, stable phase of their relationship, many end up falling into some sort of sexual routine. For women, in particular, Cox said, this can lead to sexual desire gradually fading out over time.

“Men put up with routine, boring sex because they generally orgasm at the end of it. So of course, for them, it’s not as boring or routine, is it?” Cox said. “But if you’re not having an orgasm at the end and you’re doing the same thing every single time, why would you want to have sex? You don’t go to the same restaurant every night and eat the same meal; why would you do that with sex?”

So what do you do about it?

Cox conceded that it’s really difficult to recreate your just-dating sex life.

“How about instead of trying to get something that’s quite unattainable, we go for ‘How do I have really good, satisfying sex with my partner?'” she said. “Go down that path and then introduce some adventure and some new things; push yourselves a little bit. Try to do things that make you feel like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe we just did that’.”

That might include introducing sex toys, trying new positions, watching porn or reading erotica together, or simply having sex in a different room of the house. For the more adventurous, it might involve attending a sex club.

“You can do it whatever level suits your relationship,” she said.

As long as you both consent fully, of course.

Feature image: Getty.