The 8 stages of a typical sex life: What’s coming next for you?

A sex therapist friend once told me if someone tells him they know a couple married 20 years whose sex life is as good as it was at the start, there are only three possibilities.

The first, they’re lying.

The second, they’re telling the truth because they didn’t have good sex to begin with.

Or sex is all they’ve ever had because they haven’t connected emotionally.

I have to agree with him.

Long-term sex can be very good and immensely satisfying – but it sure as hell won’t be the sort of sex you had at the start.

Our sex lives, like most things, change throughout our lives and tend to follow a predictable path the longer we stay together.

These are the eight stages therapists and research say most couples pass through (though not necessarily strictly in this order).

Forewarned is forearmed: knowing what’s ahead means you’ll have more chance of lasting the distance!


In your head

Psychologist Dorothy Tennov first coined the suitably fairytale phrase ‘limerence’ in the late 70s.

Limerence isn’t in fact love but the act of falling in love – the euphoria created by the cocktail of brain hormones released is similar to that created by cocaine.

The high level of feel good chemicals in the brain and high doses of dopamine and serotonin mean you don’t need sleep or food and have limitless energy.

In bed

These hormones perform a logic lobotomy that instils a smug sense of sexual supremacy.

Other couples may suffer the inevitable sex slump that seems to happen later, but that’s not going to happen to you two! You’re different.

Low sex drives, appalling technique, a slant towards selfishness – the intense boost you’re getting right now cunningly disguises it all.

If we could all stay at this point, we would.


In your head

The sexy, supercharged brain hormones slow from a flood to a trickle and fuzzy, bonding chemicals like oxytocin and vasopressin move in. The result is a calmer, content phase where affection and love seem more important than getting a leg-over in the loo at your friend’s dinner party.

In bed

It’s only at this point that you get a true reading of what your sex life is really going to be like. We all have a sex ‘home base’ – a natural libido level created by genetics, hormones and ageing. Limerence falsifies our home base because the rush of hormones pushes it much higher than usual.


In your head

You’re sizing each other up to decide who is going to be ‘boss’ of the relationship.

All couples have power struggles and once the swords are drawn, the battle can be bloody and epic.

Yikes! You’ll both feel confused – what the hell happened to your perfect love affair and sex life?

In bed

Sex can be used as a weapon – withdrawn as punishment or used to show off your ‘superior’ love-making skills.

All that arguing is an incredibly effective anti-aphrodisiac – even the healthiest libido flags. Or blossom if you’re into make-up sex!


In your head

Realising it’s impossible to be everything to each other, you look outside the relationship to satisfy parts that aren’t being fulfilled by your partner.

If you both hit the separation stage at the same time, it can be quite liberating.

Sadly, this happens about as often as simultaneous orgasms.

Usually one is ready to climb out of the couple bubble before the other and one of you feels hurt and threatened.

In bed

You start to see differences between you, as well as similarities, in bed as well as out of it.

Be open to trying their way and you may find you like it. Even if you don’t, you can establish a nice, healthy sexual give and take cycle.

There’s another bonus to doing things apart: you’ve got more to talk about – and a hint of jealousy and insecurity about what your partner does when you’re not around doesn’t do either of you any harm.


In your head

You’re both struggling to reconcile your new roles of ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ with your former sexy selves and see each other completely differently.

In bed

Not much is usually happening at this stage!

Sleep deprivation and giving so much physically to the baby, makes the thought of having to give to him as well is about as welcome as haemorrhoids.

Couples who rather sensibly decide to expect little from their sex lives for the first two years survive the best. It’s a temporary stage, remember, you’re not kissing goodbye to sex forever.


In your head

Whether you had children or didn’t, the relationship moves from ‘fun’ to ‘functional’ because something is invariably introduced to take their place.

You’re working together as a team to build something and our partners morph from people who are erotic to a source of safety.

In bed

You’re probably having maintenance sex – done out of physical need and habit rather than with passion or creativity.

Of all the stages, this is the hardest to survive.

The average duration for failed marriages in the western world is 11.3 years – which is about when this stage happens in a relationship.


In your head

Your kids leave home, you deal with the death of your parents, one or both of you retire. If your relationship is good, the result is a fizzy, fresh chance to focus anew on each other.

In bed

You might not be having sex very often but the quality can be very, very good. Full attention on each other can mean sex gets rediscovered.

Sex becomes less penetration focused, slower and more erotic.


In your head

It’s an apt reward that couples who manage to negotiate all the hazards of long-term love get to once more experience the heady, intense emotions that started them out on the relationship rollercoaster.

This is why older couples can often present as the most romantic of all.

In bed

New research suggests plenty of people aged anywhere from 70 to 90 rate their sex lives as ‘very satisfying’.

While the orgasm quota isn’t what it was during limerence, sex sessions are sensual and high on snuggling and cuddling.

You don’t have to swap sex for bridge or the grandkids!