Is It OK to Have 'Maintenance Sex' With Your Partner?
After six months of dating her boyfriend, Clarissa Bloom, a dating and relationship expert for the Stag Company in the United Kingdom, realized her relationship had hit a dry patch. The initial "honeymoon" period died down and the frequency of sex gradually decreased. At this point, Bloom—who had a higher sex drive than her boyfriend—communicated her sexual frustrations.
"He was quite attentive to my needs and amazing in bed, but I wasn't satisfied with how regular the sex was," Bloom explained. "We were having sex once a week, and I was hoping to have it more often."
Their different work schedules also impacted their sex life. Bloom had to get up at 7:30 a.m., whereas her boyfriend didn't need to get up until 8:15 a.m. For Bloom, who preferred to be intimate early in the morning before work, this fueled more sexual frustration.
After having an open discussion, Bloom and her partner decided to set aside time in the morning for sex, a decision that has so far made their relationship more blissful than before.
"I know sometimes he's tired and I usually communicate that we don't have to if he's not in the mood," Bloom said. "I'm equally aware that sometimes he is getting in the mood for me, so I appreciate that. We both do plenty for each other and we're both happy for it."
Like Bloom, 29-year-old Janine, from Texas, who requested her full name not be used, also discovered her libido was much higher than her partner's. The pair, who had been dating for three months, came to a consensus to have sex at least once a week so neither of them would feel as if their needs were not being met.
"We set aside Saturday nights for that," Janine explained. "We try to spice it up as much as possible so that it won't feel like a duty we have to do. So far, this frequency has worked well for us."
What is 'maintenance sex'?
"Maintenance sex"—setting aside specific pockets of time for sex—is common for some people in relationships like Bloom's and Janine's where couples have differing sex drives and/or schedules. If the sex frequency has fallen or the stressors of life start to get in the way, some couples opt to have maintenance sex to rekindle their sex life.
However, maintenance sex has sparked a debate over whether it's good for your relationship or just a concept rooted in sexism.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not just cisgender men who suggest the idea of maintenance sex, but also nonbinary individuals and cisgender women, as Ness Cooper, a clinical sexologist from Norfolk, England, pointed out.
"There's no denying that societal expectations of sexual libido may also influence maintenance sex, particularly the myth that all men have higher sex drives when, in fact, sex drives vary from person to person regardless of gender," she noted.
While some couples can find that having maintenance sex can be quite helpful for their relationship, it may not always work for the better. If you and your partner are considering forming a maintenance sex schedule, here are some pros and cons you should keep in mind.
The benefits of maintenance sex
For couples in long-term relationships, maintenance sex ensures a steady flow of intimacy, meaning none of the partners feel sexually abandoned. Even though there isn't a standard frequency for the number of times you and your partner should have sex, a 2015 study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science revealed that couples who have sex once a week are the happiest.
"Couples are usually not synced in their sex drives or their lives," said Debra Laino, a sex therapist in Delaware who is certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). "Having the awareness that the relationship needs nurturing by maintenance sex is a good thing and important for healthy relationships."
In addition, some couples find maintenance sex particularly helpful if there are factors causing them to feel overwhelmed or there are disruptions to shared time.
"For most couples, sex works on the 'use it or lose it' mindset, meaning that if you don't engage in it, your enjoyment of it can flicker out and have a knock-on effect on your relationship satisfaction," Cooper said. "Maintenance sex is also a great way for couples to discover what each partner wants in the bedroom."
When does maintenance sex become problematic?
If maintenance sex is the only kind of sex you and your partner are having, then it could pose a problem for your relationship, because sex might start feeling like an obligation rather than something both of you desire.
There needs to be a balance between the desire for sex and intimacy and maintenance sex, especially when one or both partners aren't feeling it as much, Laino explained. If either party involved is uncomfortable, then taking a day or two off the schedule is OK.
In addition, some couples may use maintenance sex to avoid the root problem within the relationship, such as dissatisfaction with intimacy or the relationship.
"Maintenance sex may not work as a long-term solution to such a kind of dissatisfaction," Cooper said. "Eventually, couples may find that they lack the motivation to maintain the schedule."
Some suggestions for ways to deal with mismatched libidos include the following:
- Cuddling. Couples can embrace each other naked and feel intimate and connected.
- Masturbation. Engaging in solo masturbation can help one partner get off if the other partner doesn't feel like engaging in sex.
- Sex toys. If the partner with a lower sex drive doesn't feel like engaging in sex, then they can pleasure the other partner, thereby creating a very real moment of intimacy for both partners.
It's also possible that engaging in these behaviors may cause the partner who's feeling less desire to become quite aroused, bringing about its own solution.
While maintenance sex can help to strengthen a relationship for some couples, fostering intimacy outside the bedroom is just as important because it allows you to get in the mood more easily. Communicating each other's needs and what you both desire is important prior to exploring any options to change your relationship and, yes, that includes maintenance sex.
If you choose to form a maintenance sex schedule, working out each other's emotional motivation first can lead to a higher chance of intimacy and relational satisfaction. In the event that you and your partner are worried about your out-of-sync sex drives, seeking help from a professional can also help you get to the root cause of any underlying problem.