Why is variety good for us?
When somebody’s sex life falls a bit flat, the popular wisdom is that you just need to “spice things up”.
But familiarity isn’t the enemy – sexual comfort and routine allows a couple to gain valuable knowledge and techniques for turning each other on, often lets them relax more during sex and experience less performance anxiety, and usually provides a sense of emotional safety in the bedroom.
But it is true that familiarity and sexual routine can become too dominant in a relationship, leading to less sexual passion, sexual boredom, and low prioritising of sex.
On the other hand, too much focus on “spicing things up” in one’s sex life can create performance pressure, reduce that emotional safely and comfort, and make sex feel too effortful.
Therefore, it can be a good idea to aim towards a sex life that capitalises on the comfortable and familiar, whilst also building in time for novelty and variety.
Getting a Good Balance
One interesting way to think about the balance between sexual routine and sexual novelty is “The Healthy Sex Pyramid” – an idea coined by Dr. Ian Kerner, PhD.
This idea draws on our knowledge of The Healthy Food Pyramid where:
- At the bottom of the pyramid, there are everyday foods that make up the bulk of your diet. These are your staples;
- In the middle of the pyramid, there are every-now-and-again foods that get thrown in the mix for pleasure and variety;
- And at the top of the pyramid there are your special occasion foods and treats.
If we apply this kind of idea to the bedroom, then The Healthy Sex Pyramid might look something like this:
- At the bottom of the pyramid are your everyday/week-to-week comfortable and familiar sexual routines and rituals.
- In the middle of the pyramid are some novel activities that get thrown in the mix and add some variety and eroticism – these often require more thought, preparation and communication.
- And lastly, at the top of the pyramid are some happy-to-try-it-once sex play ideas, certain fantasies you’d like to try out, or sexual activities you save for special occasions.
A big difference that exists between The Healthy Food Pyramid and The Healthy Sex Pyramids is that with the food version, we expect everyone’s pyramid to look quite similar – we all know what a healthy diet looks like.
But with our sex lives, everyone’s pyramid will look different as we are all turned on by different things, enjoy different fantasies, and have different beliefs, attitudes and thresholds for taboo and kinky activities.
Note: With any kind of sex – familiar or novel – it is still very important to remember the Condition for Good Sex.
Differences Between Relationships
With this in mind, any two couples sex lives may look completely different, with unique sexual staples, varieties and fantasies. Here are a couple of case examples.
Example 1: Cassie and Jim
Cassie and Jim have sex about once a week, and a bit more regularly when on holidays. Their usual routine is sex on a Saturday or Sunday morning when they both get a sleep in – although they need to lock the bedroom door so as not to be interrupted by the kids. This usually involves some deep kissing, some touching and caressing with hands and fingers, and then penetrative intercourse in a couple of favourite positions.
Cassie and Jim also like to have a “quickie” every now and again – and this happens every few weeks when one of them initiates it in the shower, or the bedroom, or when they briefly have the house to themselves.
When on holidays, Cassie and Jim have time for more extended love-making. They both take the time to light candles, put on music and have lots of kissing, touching and oral sex before penetrative intercourse.
Example 2: Ronnie and Greyson
Ronnie and Greyson both like a lot of role-play and fantasy in their sex life. Their usual sex routine involves one of them describing a fantasy to the other while they have sex, or both of them enacting a scene they find erotic.
They have both read books about Tantric sex, and every now and again they set aside an afternoon to practice slow-sex and orgasmic meditation.
Greyson has told Ronnie about their fantasy of being watched while having sex, and the couple are looking into arranging this via an internet site. They don’t know how it will go, but are open to trying it out.
Differences Within Relationships
As well as differences between couples, in most relationship there will be individual differences between partners too. For example, two partners may have different ideas about how often they want to do something more sexually novel, or they may have different ideas about what kinds of sexual activities are erotic or appropriate to try in their relationship.
Differences are natural in a sexual relationship and can generally be managed well with good communication, openness to hearing your partner’s ideas, and avoiding judgement or shaming (even if a certain suggestion is really not your thing).
Openness to stepping outside of your sexual comfort zone can be helpful – there might be sexual activities you didn’t know you would enjoy. But it is also very important to know your boundaries and limits too.
Its okay to feel a bit nervous or silly about trying something new, but this should not mean feeling unsafe, demoralised, humiliated, disgusted or being in pain*. This needs to be about mutual fun, creativity and creating positive memories together.
* Of course, some sexual fantasies include pain, demoralisation, humiliation, etc. as a part of the fantasy. For example, bondage or some kinds of role-plays. But this is a very conscious and consensual use of these mental states for sex play.
One way to open up communication about this within a relationship, is for each partner to write down what they think is the ideal Healthy Sex Pyramid for them. These ideas can then be shared and negotiated.
This also offers the opportunity to start planning how often you would like to inject a little variety into your sex life, and what preparation might be needed (eg., making a sexy music playlist, buying candles, visiting an online sex-toy shop, clearing a few hours in your calender one weekend a month).
(For a simple tip about introducing new things in the bedroom, go here)
And lastly, you can also discuss your no-go list – the sexual activities you just have no interest in trying, or the ones that make you feel very uncomfortable. You could just avoid these activities by brushing-off the idea every time it comes up – but this often leads to repeated cycles of pursue-and-reject. This can be frustrating for all involved.
Alternatively, you could have a candid discussion about why certain activities are just off the table for you.
Dr. Alice Hucker