I love the topic of sex and sexuality. I think it’s amazing! And God-given. It’s a core part of who we are and what makes us human. I believe healthy sexuality has an expansive and life-giving energy to it. I think it’s awesome that we can cultivate our sexual capacities in our marriage relationships.
I believe a great sex life leads one to be honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and to do good to all. A great sex life also helps us better endure all the things that life throws at us. It gives depth, hope, and meaning to our precious marriage vows and covenants.
Building a great sex life is not only rewarding, I believe it’s also the greatest challenge of a lifetime. If you’re feeling anxious, frustrated, stretched, or pressured around sex, congratulations! You’re perfectly normal! I suggest you view this friction as “iron sharpening iron” – it’s calling you to dig deep, to get really honest with yourself, and to step into a refining process to become the very best version of yourself you can become.
When sex is good, it feels like coming home – a very intimate and safe place to express yourself and be one with a special someone you care deeply about. As humans we crave safety and stability. I don’t know of many things sweeter than finding peace and comfort in the intimate embrace of your lover after a hard day.
Safety vs Novelty Paradox
Paradoxically, just as much as we crave safety and stability, it’s also human nature to crave newness and adventure! It’s normal to crave novelty. Besides, who wants to eat the same meal every day for the rest of our lives, really? We like variety in our food. We like new cars, new computers and gadgets, new houses, new hair styles, new outfits, new music, new celebrities, new TV shows, and so on. Some of us even change jobs when we’re bored of the old just to experience something new!
So it’s probably no surprise that it’s also perfectly natural to crave novelty in sex, to desire new experiences with your spouse. Besides, seeking newness is like the fun plot twists in novels that keep the story moving forward. It makes the relationship exciting again. And seeking novelty can be good, like fresh air to an otherwise stuffy sex life. As my friend Laura Brotherson, a certified Sex Therapist teaches, “variety is key to vitality” when it comes to a long-lasting marriage!
Why Sex Gets Boring
When you’re first married, there’s plenty of sexual novelty. After a while, you get used to each other and you gradually fall into your familiar patterns of what works for each of you. As far as intimacy is concerned, you get used to covering up the parts of you you don’t like your spouse seeing, and only showing the parts you feel comfortable showing… and I’m not only talking about body parts here. It’s our emotional self, our thinking, and who we’re becoming. As we stop pushing ourselves to grow, we stop taking risks to be honest with our spouse, or to invest in really understanding our spouse in the name of “familiarity”. That’s when sex can get routine, blah, and a bit boring.
Today I want to talk about two ways to find novelty that I call horizontal and vertical novelty. These will help you think about how to keep your marriage strong for the long haul.
Horizontal novelty is most common and what people think about when you’re talking about seeking novelty in the bedroom. This can mean new positions, new lingerie, toys, locations, or a gazillion other things. Maybe even an awesome new app like Intimately Us!
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with horizontal novelty alone. There’s definitely a time and a place for it. And hey, it can be pleasurable and fun to broaden your horizons a bit!! It might be just the thing you need. A healthy sex life includes some horizontal novelty.
If you’re looking for ideas to add more horizontal novelty into your marriage, I suggest you and your spouse create a sex bucket list together. Write down all the things you want to try or get better at doing. You can use the Intimately Us app to do this. Or maybe try something like what another couple did: they mounted a large whiteboard in their master bathroom and wrote down sexy things to each other on the board while using the toilet.
You can plan your getaways or vacations around a sex bucket list item you want to check off. You can create a savings jar where every time you have sex you put a dollar into the jar, and over time you use that cash to buy something sexy for your marriage. Make it fun!
Horizontal novelty has its limitations though. Horizontal novelty is usually pleasurable up front but has low meaning and low satisfaction over time. Ever bought a new car, new house, or started a new routine? It’s exciting at first, but over time it becomes “normal” and the newness wears off.. That’s because there’s something superficial about it.
Think of horizontal novelty like a good dessert: it’s great to have once in a while but if your whole diet was nothing but pursuing the next desserts, what would that do to you? Sooner or later you’ll find out that dessert can’t keep gratifying you long term. If you make horizontal novelty in sex your main pursuit, it can become an insatiable pursuit — a leaky bucket you won’t be able to fill.
I want to be clear here: there’s nothing wrong with seeking this type of novelty. But if you derive your sense of “aliveness” in your sex life by only the pursuit of new things, you’re going to burn out your marriage pretty quickly.
That brings me to the second type of novelty: vertical novelty. If horizontal novelty is like water skiing, vertical novelty is like scuba diving. As Dr. Jennifer Finalyson-Fife says, it’s about seeking the treasure within the same terrain. It’s pursuing the beauty and wonder that lies within the normal and ordinary. It’s finding that sense of aliveness within the person right in front of you — your spouse!
Most people get bored of their sex life because they’ve stopped putting in the effort to really see their spouse at a deeper level, or they’ve stopped letting their spouse really see themselves at a deeper level. When you begin to take someone for granted, they become a flat 2-dimensional character to you. Vertical novelty is about seeking depth in your spouse and staying awake and alert to the person they are.
Unlike horizontal novelty which is pleasurable up front but low in meaning and satisfaction over time, vertical novelty takes a lot of work up front but yields fruits later. It may require you to confront your own anxieties, challenge you to see the goodness in your spouse when you find it hard to do, or decide to deal with the issues that you keep avoiding.
Frankly, some couples find it easier, cheaper, and faster to just buy a new vibrator than to really invest in knowing and being known by their spouse. Some couples would rather keep things safe and superficial but end up creating a dead marriage. It feels exposing to be authentic with your spouse and rather than learning to tolerate that exposure, you may just give into the quick fix. Vertical novelty is not for the faint at heart or for wimps, but the effects of seeking vertical novelty are much longer lasting and deeply meaningful.
Examples of Vertical Novelty
Emily’s career is a full time super mom to our six children, ages 16 – 4. There’s been several occasions where Emily takes a trip and I get to be Mr. Mom for a few days. After changing diapers, cleaning off messes on the carpet, reading lots of books, being a taxi driver taking kids to practice, cooking meals, bath time, listening to our teenage children’s latest drama, and cleaning, whew! These experiences give me a newfound appreciation for this remarkable woman I’ve married that chooses a very challenging and thankless career without complaint. Making love to a woman after spending a few days in her shoes is very different because I see her now as a person with depth and great capacity for compassion.
There was a time not too long ago where I took a risk in a business venture. I talked with my wife about it a lot before making the decision, where she had her reservations, but supported me in my decision in the end. When things didn’t turn out the way we had hoped, and I was feeling very vulnerable and hurt by the outcome, it would have been so easy for her to say, “See! I told you so!” Yet she didn’t do any of that. Making love to a woman that I know is on my side, even if things don’t go very well, is a huge aphrodisiac.
Have you seen the movie, “A Walk to Remember”? In the movie, the main two characters, Landon and Jamie, are nothing alike. Both seniors in High School, Landon is the “bad boy” looking for trouble while Jamie is the straight-laced daughter of the town preacher. A series of circumstances puts Landon and Jamie together and at first they’re like water and oil. Things change once Landon finds out Jamie has a terminal illness and made a list of things she wants to accomplish before she dies.
Landon builds a telescope for her, dances with her, takes her across state lines so that she can be in “two places at once,” and a dozen other crazy things. Jamie was still Jamie, and Landon was still Landon. The thing though is once Landon and Jamie took off their masks and pretend selves and really got to know each other, and allowed the other to really know them, they found a new depth and interest in each other that was missing before.
If you’re looking for some specific ideas to cultivate more vertical novelty in your marriage, try visiting your spouse at work where they give a presentation. Do a date night that includes meaningful conversation (and use conversion starters in the app if you wish). Be “Sherlock Holmes” for a week and journal meaningful things you notice about your spouse that you didn’t see before.
Most importantly, you will find vertical novelty by cultivating appreciation and gratitude for your spouse, and getting curious instead of reactive when your spouse makes you anxious. This will require you to be sure you’re not giving off an “entitled” attitude – where you unrealistically expect your spouse to be someone different than who they are. You stop seeing your spouse as the fantasy version of who you think they are and instead see them for the real version of themselves.
A great marriage has a healthy blend of horizontal and vertical novelty. Horizontal is pleasurable and fun up front and vertical novelty adds meaning and depth over the long haul. It takes courage, honesty, and integrity to truly indulge in vertical novelty.
I really hope you and your spouse find this podcast episode helpful as you seek to build a marriage full of aliveness, curiosity, passion, and excitement through horizontal and vertical novelty! For more information, check out the Intimately Us app, our other podcast episodes, or getyourmarriageon.com.