Features & Columns

Advice Goddess: Is There a Way to Reboot Our Sex Life?

I hate to be trite, but my wife and I are experiencing "lesbian bed death." We've been happily married for three years. I'm not sure why we're not having sex. Sure, we're both busy, but it's more a question of just not ever feeling the urge. I know sex is important for a relationship, and I'm worried. Is there a way to reboot our sex life?—Bedfriends

It's understandably depressing if the only time there's heavy breathing in the bedroom is when you're re-enacting WrestleMania XXV—that is, trying to get the duvet cover on.

This doesn't mean you should buy into the lesbo-bashing notion of "lesbian bed death"—the myth that lesbian relationships, in particular, are where sex goes to die. The term traces back to a finding from social psychologist Phillip Blumstein and sociologist Pepper Schwartz, published in their 1983 book, "American Couples: Money, Work, Sex." Blumstein and Schwartz, reviewing results from their survey of 12,000 American couples, announced that lesbians in relationships "have sex less frequently by far than any other type of couple."

This single survey led to decades of sneering about lesbian relationships as the province of hot hand-holding. However, psychologist Suzanne Iasenza notes that a bunch of subsequent studies found that lesbians tend to be more sexually assertive and sexually satisfied than straight ladies—as well as less orgasm-challenged. (Helps when you know your way around the ladyparts without needing a two-hour lecture and a female anatomy PowerPoint.)

The reality is, so-called lesbian bed death actually happens to heterosexual women—once they get into relationships. In other words, the real issue is not being a lesbian but being a woman in a long-term partnership—and the assumption that male sexual response, driven by spontaneously occurring lust, should be considered the norm for women.

Sex researcher Rosemary Basson, M.D., finds that when a relationship is brand-new or when women are apart from their partners for days or weeks, they're likely to experience the "spontaneous sexual hunger" that men tend to have. However, once a relationship has been going for a while, women's sexual desire becomes "responsive." It isn't gone. It's "triggerable"—which is to say it's hibernating until somebody wakes it up.

This, however, brings us to another problem. Chances are, a reason that straight couples might have more sex is that men—driven by that spontaneous lust—are more likely to initiate. You and your wife need to initiate—and maybe even schedule sex dates so initiating doesn't become yet another thing that falls off your to-do list. Eventually, when you light a bunch of candles to set the mood, your wife's response should be something a little more erotic than "You gotta be kidding me. Another squirrel fried on the power line?"

I'm addicted to my phone—Twitter, Instagram, news, texts...you name it. My girlfriend feels disrespected and unheard when I look at it while she's talking, but I can't seem to stop. Please help me out before I lose the woman I love!—Addicted

If your smartphone were actually smart, it would ping you to listen to your girlfriend before she's your ex-girlfriend trash-talking you in a bar.

Instead, smartphones and apps turn us into lab rats ferociously hitting the touch screen for another hit of techno-crack. They do this through what psychologists call "intermittent reinforcement"—"rewards" that come randomly and unpredictably. Checking your phone sometimes "rewards" you with a new message or newsbit—sometimes (or even often), but not always. When "rewards" come regularly and reliably—like when a rat pushes a bar and gets a food pellet every time—the rat chills out and only presses when, say, his stomach rings the dinner bell. Unpredictable rewards, on the other hand—only sometimes getting a hit—drive the rats to pump the bar incessantly.

However, there is hope for you—and your relationship—thanks to research on habit formation (by psychologist Phillippa Lally, among others). Repeatedly behaving differently when your girlfriend's talking to you—by turning your phone totally off and, if possible, relocating it to another room—can eventually change your default behavior from robotically checking your phone to attentiveness to those important to you.