When you first started dating your guy, you probably didn’t need any prodding to get into the bedroom, thanks in large part to a surge of chemicals in the brain that keep new lovers turned on and tuned in to each other.
But after a few years, those lusty neurotransmitters stabilise, work and other responsibilities become a priority, and you settle into a comfy ‘attachment’ stage. It’s still physical, just more snuggling in front of the TV than tearing up the sheets. But as great as those cushy sessions on the couch seem, they can provide a false sense of security about the health of your union.
It’s a common situation I’ve seen in my nearly 10 years as a sex therapist, and I call it the cuddle conundrum. You’re cool with the laid-back intimacy and you think he is too. After all, he’s hardly complaining, and the sex is still good (when you have it). Thing is, a guy is hardwired to hanker for regular sex, even after the relationship has racked up mileage. But he won’t broadcast his frustration for fear that you’ll cut off the action completely.
And the longer the cuddle-fest continues, the more likely a man will look for thrills elsewhere: by watching porn, masturbating more frequently, flirting with other women, and in the worst-case scenario, cheating. But don’t panic. Once you clue in to what’s going on, you can inject sexual urgency and adventure back into your bond. And cut off trouble at the pass.
At the root of the cuddle conundrum is a difference in the way men’s and women’s bodies function. A female has the hormone oxytocin coursing through her system, which is produced via touch and makes her feel connected to her guy. Holding hands, hugging, even smelling him all pump up those levels, giving her a warm and contented feeling. Men, by comparison, produce little oxytocin (its primary function is to promote bonding as it’s released during childbirth and breast-feeding), so a good cuddle just isn’t going to cut it.
Instead, guys are driven by dopamine, a chemical found in the reward centre of the brain that also fuels sexual desire. Dopamine levels (for you and him) are at their highest at the start of a relationship, which is why things were so hot and heavy back then. But as you settle into the attachment phase (two to three years in), dopamine levels nosedive. While women tap into their oxytocin reserves to stay satisfied, men seek regular sex to drive their dopamine levels up where they belong.
THE NUMBERS GAME
Unfortunately, many women write off a man’s need for frequent sex as boys just being boys. But a man’s desire runs deeper than that. Sex is one of the main ways guys express their emotions. So a lack of sex makes him feel like you’re not connected. When he loses that outlet, he feels removed from the relationship.
To get back on the same page, you need to reconcile his need for sex with yours. While there’s no magic number to keep him content, I’ve found the majority of men in long-term relationships would like to have intercourse about three or four times a week (if not more).
Think long and hard about how your numbers stack up. If they’ve fallen off, chances are, he’s itching for more action (no matter how much he snuggles when you are on the couch). Since he won’t blatantly speak about it, keep an eye out for changes in his behaviour. He might make more sexual advances, hoping that one of his efforts will stick.
BRINGING SEXY BACK
To steer clear of the cuddle trap, remember, quality is as crucial as quantity. During the attachment phase, couples experience less spontaneous feelings of desire and a diminishing sense of adventure. Whenever possible, infuse your lust life with novelty. At minimum, move your takeaways from the coffee table to the kitchen, turn off the TV and get tuned in to each other. Or better yet, shower him with PDA. If you give your cuddle a new context, it’s not promoting complacency, it’s building sexual anticipation.
Try including some previously unscheduled morning sex, revealing a hot, sexy dream you had about him last night, or going for a quickie in the laundry room. Relationships thrive on expansion, and anytime you do something new together, you spike dopamine levels and prevent your relationship from coasting.
GETTING YOUR FIX
All that said, there’s no need to ditch the snuggling you crave. (In fact, it’s downright healthy if you’re still having regular sex.) Just reinvent the cuddle sometimes. Recent research shows that a woman’s oxytocin levels rise and stress-hormone levels fall after only 20 seconds of hugging.
So start with an intense embrace, and then do something spontaneous, like pushing him up against the wall, pulling down his jeans, and going down on him. I call this move a sudden sex shift, where you quickly transition from an oxytocin-focused moment into a dopamine-driven one. This simple move will spike your and his senses of arousal.
Try a position that bonds you, such as side-by-side, with lots of kissing and eye contact. And just because guys don’t produce as much oxytocin as women do, or as often, it doesn’t mean they don’t produce it at all. Men reach their oxytocin peaks during foreplay arousal, and orgasm. So be sure to add lots of sensual touch, massage, and full-body stimulation into your lovemaking routine.
You also can get your fix with the post-sex cuddle. After a guy has an orgasm, his oxytocin levels are at their highest, although they’re also competing with such other hormones as prolactin, which contributes to his feelings of sleepiness. But here’s the good news in all this: Dozing off in each other’s arms after an amazing climax means you’ll both wake up feeling totally connected.