Warning: Mature content
Welcome to Relationship Rehab, news.com.au's weekly column solving all your romantic problems, no holds barred.
This week, our resident sexologist Isiah McKimmie tackles a husband who wants to spice up his sex life, a man who doesn't want to spend Christmas with his in-laws and a woman unsure of how to be more vocal in the bedroom.
How can I spice up our sex life this Christmas?
Question: It's been a really stressful year for me and my wife. Our relationship has suffered in all areas due to the extra stress, our sex life included. To be honest, it wasn't great before this year, but has taken a dive even further. We have sex maybe once a month or so, but even then, it's pretty routine. We just know what each other likes and we stick to that – it's not very satisfying. We're finally getting a chance to have a few weeks away over Christmas and I'm hoping we can use the opportunity to spice things up a bit. I'm just not sure what to do. I don't want to upset her or start an argument.
Answer: This time of year, underlying challenges that couples have been facing can really come to the surface. It sounds like you're feeling disconnected from your wife – and that you've fallen into a routine sex life – both common challenges for couples when life is busy.
The holidays are a great chance to reconnect with each other – and for many couples, getting out of their regular routine is an opportunity to reconnect in the bedroom too.
I would caution you to manage your expectations around this. I commonly speak to couples who expect their holidays to involve the great sex they used to have, but end up feeling overwhelmed by the pressure or frustrated that things don't "click" the way they expected.
If you end up frustrated about things not going the way you wanted, it could do more damage to your relationship and intimacy.
I'm also curious about what your wife wants here. Have you spoken together about what you want for your relationship and sex life? That's where I suggest starting.
Being away on holiday does often lead to great sex – but it doesn't always continue when couples arrive home. To create lasting playfulness and variety in your intimate life together, here's what I suggest:
Maintain your connection and friendship: Couples who have a great sex life together also maintain their connection and friendship day to day. They say 'I love you' often, share appreciation for each other, set aside time to talk and are affectionate without it leading to sex.
Make sex a priority: Maintaining lasting passion and intimacy doesn't 'just happen' as you've discovered. We need to see it as important, make it a priority and set aside time for it.
Learn to talk about sex well together: The research is clear that couples who can talk about sex well together have better sex. But it's a topic that most of us feel awkward about – and avoid. There's a popular myth too, perpetuated by Hollywood sex scenes that "great sex" will have two people just knowing what to do.
A helpful way to start this process is to ask each other "How was sex spoken about in your family growing up? What messages did you receive about sex from your culture, family or religion?"
Maintain variety – and foreplay: It often feels "safer" to slip into a routine around sex than risk trying something different. Many couples can reach an unspoken agreement to "just get it over and done with" to keep one or both of them happy.
It often means that foreplay gets skipped and they do what they know will get one of them to orgasm more quickly. But long-term, it takes the joy and playfulness out of sex. Take the pressure off reaching orgasm and allow yourselves to explore.
Try Body Mapping: The Body Mapping exercise available here is a great way to discover how you enjoy being touched and help you communicate better with each other.
Help! I don't want to spend the holidays with my in-laws
Question: My wife is really close to her family and we end up spending every Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year with them. I was hoping Covid would mean we didn't have to this year but now the borders are open there is no excuse. I just want a quiet Christmas with us two. How do I tell her that?
Answer: Navigating in-laws and extended family over Christmas is challenging, but what's most important is that you approach this as a team.
One of the important elements of a successful long-term relationship is being able to create "shared meaning" in your life together. This involves developing rituals together, having shared goals and understanding the meanings of important topics to each other.
Have a conversation where you both share your perspectives on the holidays and what they mean to you. Aim for understanding each other before you make decisions on what action to take. This makes it easier to compromise in a meaningful and harmonious way.
It may be that you spend this year with family, but make alternative plans for next year. Or that you spend holidays with her family, but make time for just the two of you on other days.
How can I be more vocal in bed?
Question: I've been with my boyfriend for nine months and he recently told me that I need to be more vocal about what I enjoy in the bedroom. The thing is, I don't really know what I enjoy! How do I find out?
Answer: This is a really common question I hear from women – and it's not surprising. As women, we often face judgment around our sexuality and aren't encouraged to explore what we like. For numerous reasons, it's also difficult for us to speak up and ask for what we want. So don't blame yourself.
Learn to talk about sex more openly with your partner.
This takes practice – and will take effort from him too.
Do some research.
It can be hard to know where to start. Explore on your own (and by that, I mean masturbation) and jump online to the multitude of sex educators out there to discover the possibilities.
• Isiah McKimmie is a couples therapist, sex therapist and sexologist. For more expert advice follow her on Instagram.