Sex & Relationships

7 Long-Term Couples On How Their Sex Lives Have Changed Over The Years

“People should be encouraged because you get better at this over time. I don’t mean some sort of technique. You get better at being you over time.”

Long-term relationships are made up of people, and like people, they undergo all kinds of changes over time — in circumstances, in ability, in identity, in desire. It’s hard to remember that sex ebbs and flows, especially when you have little kids, but life is long, and, if we’re lucky, we have plenty of time to get it right. To keep it in perspective, we talked to people in long-term relationships about how their sex lives have changed over time. The good news is that overall, with a bit of effort, they seem to have gotten better.

Mickey Ellis; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; married 15 years

“During the pandemic, one night, [my husband] said meet me in the driveway. When I got in the truck, he had a cigar, of course, but he had my favorite wine and the music playing. He put the sunroof back and we had the best time looking at the stars in the sky in the driveway. We were out there for four hours. It was the best time. You have to be creative.

“I have this thing that my husband and I do, we call it this kind of relationship checkup. Each week we have a checkup just to see where we are. Some of the questions that we ask each other are ‘What was the highlight of your week? What was the down of your week? Are we good? Have I done anything to hurt you or disappoint you?’ It teaches us how to love each other. because love languages change especially as you get older the longer you’re married.

“Communication is key… even when it comes down to sex because there was a point in our marriage where we couldn’t do it. He had diabetes. I was like, ‘Dude, I need something. I’m in my prime.’ And he would say, ‘Here's what I can't do, but here's what I can do.’

“Every sexual experience is not going to be firecrackers. I’ll tell my husband, ‘Babe, come home. I need some real quick and then we can go out.’ I don’t need to hug and hold — I don’t need that anymore. Sometimes let’s just do it, let me get these endorphins off so I can relax.

“I can’t dance. I have no rhythm, but I love to dance. You can’t tell me I can’t dance, but I dance for my husband. Every time I get out of shower. Every single time I get out of shower I dance for him, and he still blushes.”

Emily and Sam (not their real names), together 15 years

Sam: “We met in college when we had time to have sex for hours. But I also think we didn’t know how to please each other yet, and we were still exploring. At first, when our sex shortened, I had a little bit of guilt about it, but now I focus on the fact that it’s really a sign we know how to please one another.”

Emily: “Kids eventually sleep; mutual masturbation is more than good enough; be kind to each other.”

Sam: “My biggest piece of advice is to broaden your definitions of sex. If your road to parenting has meant someone gave birth, that body probably works differently now. Penetration might not feel good for a long time. Find things that do and call that sex. I’ve also found that what we refer to as maintenance sex is more than good enough. We wish we were less busy, sure. But thankfully our schedules are weird and we often have time for afternoon delight. We hope our kids never figure out what it means when we say we have to take a nap.

“I have this distinct memory of the first time we realized our first kid could occupy himself for a bit. We opened the bedroom door, and he was sitting on the floor with the one dictionary we had in the house carefully tearing pages out and shredding them. He was, you know, just about 1, so he could sit but he wasn’t particularly mobile. We closed the door quietly and went to go have sex. The next time we wanted to, we plopped him back in the room with the dictionary. … Our oldest is now 9, and I am very worried about when they start to be like, um, ‘Where do you all go when you turn on a movie for us on a Saturday afternoon?’ I think now they think we’re folding laundry or something.”

Emily: “Over the years, he has been on and off hormone replacement therapy, which has meant that how his body has changed has kept things very exciting for me. I’ve loved exploring what makes him feel good as his body has changed and changed again.”

Sam: “I can’t say that the whole, ‘my partner is nonbinary and keeps going on and off hormones and having a changing relationship with his boobs and with power and desire’ is that relatable, but I will say that everyone’s body is on a journey, and leaning into an exploration of how the body is changing and what it wants could benefit everyone.”

Emily: “The best thing by far has been that he listened when I said years ago that I want to French kiss more. It’s not something we did much at all years ago, and now we kiss all the time… with tongue! Having more daily physical intimacy that isn’t sex helps me want sex more often.”

Andrew Landorf; Tarrytown, New York; married 38 years

“When you start out, the sky’s the limit. And then you have kids and you have to work around when they’re awake, and you’ve got to do it when they’re asleep. Then now the kids are gone again… I mean, you're not as ready all the time as you used to be, and that’s just the way it is, you know? I think there’s just a gradual coming to terms with it. It doesn't mean that doesn't happen. It just doesn't happen like it used to happen.

One comic strip [we made], is a guy, Craig, stripped down to his undershorts. And there’s a woman, she’s down to her bra and panties. They're standing on opposite sides of a bed. You get the feeling this is going to be the first time for them. Getting undressed when you're in your 60s is a whole different thing than when you're in your teens and 20s. So they say, ‘Lights on or,’ and then they both at the same time say, ‘Off!’ The next frame goes dark.

We’re more uncomfortable talking about it the older we get. And I think other things is, let’s be honest, you’ve got a lot of testosterone when you’re young, right? It’s like always on your mind and now you don’t have as much testosterone. The mood has to be right, that kind of thing. It’s probably more pre-planned than it was. I find when I accept this, then I can appreciate what I have, and when I fight it, [I] worry what I lost. So my advice would be just to accept all the changes that are coming to you.”

Laura Lyster-Mensh; Washington, D.C.; married 28 years

“I never imagined that things would get better over time. I always thought, ‘Your 20s is the best.’ I’m gonna be honest: I think it may be the opposite. The selfishness and the insecurities of youth abate somewhat as you get older.

“My parents had enjoyed a wonderful love life and romantic life. Very much in love, and they're in their 80s, so I was so offended that people thought that now that we were over 50 that that was ‘ew.’ Why ew? Live your life, but I’m having a good time. It’s always been my expectation that it might change over time, but it’s never ‘ew.’

“Why do we think that our sexuality is somehow an embarrassment after a certain age? And what does that actually do to your sexuality when people around you think it’s somehow unseemly? You're not gonna talk to your doctor. You're not going to talk to your friends about it anymore. And you're going to cut yourself off. … If you got that in your head, I don’t think it’s gonna be good.

“Overcoming my prudishness helped me age a bit. Because it’s those younger ideas about what intimacy were and what sex were, those have to mature too. You don’t just mature in your musical tastes or what all, but you also need to come forward into really owning that you’re not just a young person who got old, you're a person.

“You can go rub bodies with anybody, but if it’s in a long-term relationship or when you’re older, you’re just more settled in who you are. And if you do it right, you’re not trying to be something you’re not. … I was wrong to think that it just goes downhill. It changes and it changes in ways that I think are unique to that couple, whereas you know, to 20-year-olds, they could interchange like Legos.

“People should be encouraged because you get better at this over time. I don’t mean some sort of technique. You get better at being you over time. And that means the person you’re with is making you happy and you are making them happy. It’s more specific, and you’re just more grounded in who you are.”

Pepper Schwartz; Seattle, Washington; remarried 16 years, 39 years total

“I think people think that after the honeymoon it’s downhill... but not necessarily. What you lose in frequency, you can make up in quality. We know each other so much better that we are experts on each other’s body, feelings and needs. The result: all good.

“Find someone you trust (your parents, a babysitter, a nanny, a sibling) to take your kids at least once a month and have an overnight date elsewhere. You have to get away from your environment even if it’s just trading apartments with a close friend overnight. Kids really take their toll on parents’ emotions and therefore libido. But you need to reclaim your sexual and emotional connection every so often. And the more often, the better.

“Spicing up the bedroom begins in your head. If your head isn’t along for the ride, your body will just be baggage instead of a willing partner. Build some anticipation, even some surprise or mystery. You don’t need to hang from the rafters to make sex satisfying and interesting.”

Shannon Battle; Fayetteville, North Carolina; married 27 years

“Things changed dramatically when I started having kids, working, and taking care of my home. I wanted more of him helping with the chores than in the bedroom. I wasn’t taught how to balance the mom life with [marriage] with kids [and a] sex life. What I thought was him being selfish was him being a man with needs that he desired to have met by his wife. It wasn’t until many years later that I started trying to figure out how to fix the disconnect in our intimacy.

“What you like now may not be what you’ve liked before. Make room for exploratory growth so you can learn what you want and see if you are willing to meet the needs of what your spouse wants.

“He sends me messages early in the [morning] and sends me quick snippets of songs that communicate his thoughts about me. The mental foreplay is very arousing and gets me prepared to open the playground later that night. I started taking off on Fridays so we could have day dates at home. We would have a picnic on our living room floor and enjoy each other.”

Heather Williams; Baltimore, Maryland; married 9 years

“For me it’s dialogue. It’s the text messages. My husband is the queen of what I call the ‘nasty emoji.’ [laughs] I’m like you need to make certain that when you are sending me these that you are paying attention and they don’t end up in the family text with our daughter. She’s always like, ‘Can y'all get a room?’ I'm like, ‘Excuse me, you actually just walked into our room. Don't be mad because I'm hugged up on my husband. OK?’

“When you have small children, you have to be creative. You have to be clever. Sometimes you have to embrace the quickie. … It’s not going to be this Tiffany-box-wrapped up experience. Get out of your head and be playful. The other piece to it is to be OK that the actual act might not happen that night. But it’s the anticipation; it’s the build; it’s the flirtation. It’s going back to the courtship.

“Before two people commit their lives to each other — whether that is in the more traditional sense of marriage or if it’s just cohabitation — however that definition may be. The key is longevity, right? Who cares how you define it, the key is longevity. And so within that longevity, before you get there, there are some conversations about who we are authentically that has to happen.”

This story is part of Romper & Fatherly’s Sex Issue, The Moms & Dads Are Horny. Because it’s Valentine’s Day, and parents deserve good sex, too.