When Sex Gets Stale

Posted by Ian Kerner, Ph.D., LMFT

After you've had sex with the same person at least a thousand times it's easy to fall into a routine. For many of us, the most exciting part of a relationship is at the beginning, when we're falling in love. It's a time filled with newness and possibility, hot and heavy flirtation, and even hotter and heavier sex.

But, after being with someone for a while, things can understandably get boring. You stop trying as hard. You'd sooner reach for that remote and a pint of Chunky Monkey than your partner. Quite simply, the thrill is gone. At Good in Bed we believe that when sex gets stale it's time "take a walk on a shaky bridge."

In 1974, two well-known psychologists, Arthur Aron and Donald Dutton, set out to explore the mysterious nature of sexual attraction, using two bridges in Canada as the setting for an ingenious experiment.  One of the bridges-- Capilano Suspension bridge--was constructed solely of plank and cable and swayed perilously in the wind some 250 feet above a turbulent river.  The other was a solidly built anchored bridge that sat a mere 10 feet above sea level. The two-part experiment went like this:

On Day One, whenever an unaccompanied man ventured across the shaky bridge, he would find himself stopped midway by an attractive young woman. She would introduce herself as a psychology student and then proceed to ask if he would mind participating in a brief survey. On Day Two, the same woman followed an identical routine on the sturdy bridge.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But there was a little twist: When each of the men completed the survey, the young woman would hand him her phone number and tell him that he was free to call her later that evening for the results.

Unbeknownst to the subjects, the real study was not the answers the men gave on the survey, but what happened afterward. Which set of men would be more likely to give the woman a call? Would the excitement and exhilaration of being on the shaky bridge, versus the more mundane experience of being on the solid bridge, promote romantic attraction? Does adrenaline makes the heart grow fonder?

Not only did Aron and Dutton find that the men on the shaky bridge were more likely than their stable-bridge counterparts to call the woman later for results of the survey, but they were also far more likely to ask her for a date!

When it comes to desire and attraction, a little unpredictability goes a long way. It spikes the brain's natural amphetamines, dopamine and norepinephrine, which play a big role in sexual arousal. In technical terms, Aron and Dutton were testing a concept called "misattribution," also known as excitation transfer theory. That's the idea that lingering excitement from one situation--say, walking across a shaky bridge versus a stable one--can intensify a subsequent emotional state.

Beneath our beds, there lies a shaky bridge, ready and waiting for high-stakes action. Yet most of us spend our sex-lives on the stable one, often without realizing it.  Luckily, you don't have to literally cross a shaky bridge, or go bungee-jumping, in order to shake things up, (unless of course you want to), but you do have to work as a couple to be creative and adventurous--both out of the bedroom and in.

The brain is our biggest sex organ, so start with sharing a fantasy.  Research shows that people with active fantasy lives are more sexually satisfied, more sexually responsive and more adventurous about sex in general. Remember, there's a difference between sharing a fantasy and actually acting one out, and lots of points along the way to enjoy. A little novelty goes a long way, and if you need some more ideas, check out my new book 52 Weeks of Amazing Sex, which includes lots of sexy scenarios and ideas to expand your horizons.

Remember, it takes two. For every woman who's willing to stand at the center of that shaky bridge, there needs to be a man who will meet her halfway.