What I've learned about sex after 10 years of marriage

Samantha Chavarria
After 10 years of marriage, I understand what I want from sex more than ever before—despite what media may convince you to believe about married sex lives. Here's what I've learned.

It’s no secret that I never intended to get married. I never even dreamed about my wedding day as a young girl. Yet, when I met my husband in my junior year of high school, our meeting was shortly followed by the realization, “Crap, I’m probably going to marry this guy.”

Though he was totally different than me, my not-yet-husband complemented me completely. Suddenly, the idea of marriage—or any long-term relationship—didn’t seem so bad. When we eventually did get married, I didn’t find it stifling to be with him. Instead, I was made better by being around him, and it felt like I did the same for him. Though I still know that marriage isn’t for everyone, in a lot of ways, being married has made me a gentler, happier, and wiser person.

One of the topics it has made me more knowledgeable about is sex. Specifically, there are a few truths that I’ve learned after 10 years of marriage. Some of these came to me as epiphanies while others were learned over years of discovering who I am and who my husband is, inside and outside of our sex lives. Embracing these lessons has helped me to grow and thoroughly enjoy my married sex life.

1Great sex takes time.

I didn’t have my first orgasm until five years into my relationship—shortly after getting married and while pregnant for the first time. Though my husband and I started having sex months into dating, we didn’t really know what we were doing. Neither of us embraced the self-discovery part of our teenage years. All we really knew about sex was the basics, and that we should always pee afterwards. (Shout out to our high school biology teacher for this bit of wisdom that’s kept me UTI-free for 15 years.)

Basically, it took time for us to figure out what we liked and didn’t like. It took time to develop a sexual relationship that was more than just okay. It wasn’t until we allowed ourselves to become more sexually adventurous that our sex life really clicked.

We often hear that, after several years of marriage, people become bored with their sex lives. I’ve discovered the opposite. After being married for 10 years and with my husband for a total of 15, I’m more interested in our sex lives than ever. Which ties into the second lesson I’ve learned.

2Asking for what you like can save so much stress

You might assume that, if you know what you want, you’re going to ask for it. However, there are plenty of us who have a problem with this concept. In fact, it’s such a common problem that the National Coalition for Sexual Health provides scripts on its website to help lovers speak to each other about wants and needs in the bedroom. Called the Five Action Steps to Good Sexual Health, these tools offer couples the ability to communicate about topics they would otherwise avoid.

Learning my preferences wasn’t as hard as asking for what I wanted. Asking felt like putting myself out there. It made me feel even more vulnerable than I felt when I had sex for the first time. Focusing the attention on myself instead of just hoping for a good shared experience felt shameful. Women often feel the need to follow the lead of their partners, and I did the same. But instead of putting the expectations on my husband to read my mind—which I was definitely guilty of doing at the beginning of our relationship—I had to accept responsibility for my own satisfaction.

However, it’s important to remember that sexual communication is a learned skill, not an inherent talent. While I was able to talk to my husband about birth control, sexual expectations, and my dislikes, it was a lot harder for me to actively ask for what I wanted. I had to work up to that, but it helped knowing that I’m more of a verbal communicator while my husband is more physical. I began giving my husband short and direct feedback in the moment of having sex, and it made me feel in control during an unguarded, vulnerable learning time. Then I began showing him what I wanted while telling him what I wanted, which helped my husband learn.

Being vulnerable was scary but it was essential to our sexy life. I know that allowing myself to be vulnerable in the bedroom has also made it easier to open up in other parts of our relationship.

3Most media does married sex a disservice.

TV and movies don’t usually paint sex for married heterosexual couples in a positive light—and they’re wrong for this. We’re taught a few toxic lessons under what is usually the guise of comedy. For example, the trope of the frigid, no-nonsense wife who withholds sex to punish her husband is a tired favorite of sitcom writers. It teaches us that sex can and should be weaponized in a monogamous relationship. While no one is guaranteed or entitled to sex, withholding affection as a form of punishment isn’t funny. Teaching people that it’s a normal part of married life is irresponsible.

This common depiction of heterosexual sex in marriage also insinuates that sex is not as important to women as it is to men. While sex is portrayed as a regular human reaction and a regular human need for husband characters, the wives are coded as cold and inhuman. It paints these women as the antagonists in their marriages, a dangerous mentality to enforce.

In my experience, after 10 years of marriage, sex is as important to me as it is to my husband. Yes, his libido is higher than mine—always has been—but withholding sex as a punishment would hurt us both emotionally and physically. Besides setting a toxic tone of monetizing affection, it would condition my husband to think that sex isn’t important to me. And, if it isn’t important to me, why should my sexual satisfaction be important to him?

4Children change sex—but not in the way you think.

Another trope that is super common to hear about longstanding relationships is that having kids changes your sex life. More to the point, it’s often inferred that they ruin it. I can’t speak for every mom, but having kids has definitely changed my sex life—though not in the ways I thought they would.

With three kids—currently aged 6-10—I have a lot on my plate. Earlier in their lives, I had help from my parents, but there was always a strict “no overnight babysitting” rule put in place. On top of that, we’ve always co-slept, with our youngest still bunking with us more often than not. Sleep deprivation has definitely been a factor in our lives for the last 10 years, but we couldn’t let sleepless nights and kiddos in our bed impact our sexual happiness.

Instead, we had to get creative. Knowing that sex isn’t always an option for us during the night in our bed, we learned to take advantage of any time and place we could steal some intimacy throughout he day. Not having a lot of time also encouraged us to learn what personally creates the quickest and most satisfying sex for us. When you’ve only got 10 minutes before a kid comes barging into the room or a few moments between dinner and bedtime, knowing what works best saves precious time.

5Sex and other love languages are vital.

Learning how someone shows their love for you will help you to pick up on important emotional queues. For my relationship in particular, sex is a major love language. My husband isn’t someone who is very vocal with his thoughts and feelings. Someone who rarely deals in absolutes, my husband doesn’t feel comfortable expressing himself with words that can be easily misconstrued. For that reason, sexual contact is a clear way to understand how he’s feeling without my own emotions clouding his.

At first, I didn’t understand this. Though I was glad he always seemed so sexually interested in me, I also felt reduced to a mere sexual being. The same way he expressed his love for me through touch and physical love, I expressed mine through verbal communication and non-sexual contact. Eventually, we allowed ourselves to talk about this. We discussed how I need to be valued on more than a sexual level and how he feels most understood while showing instead of telling.

I’m glad to say that this understanding merged into a new love language for us as a couple. We take baths together a few times every week, which lets us recharge our relationship on an emotional and physical level. When the kids have gone to sleep, we slip into our garden tub where we download with each other while enjoying the intimacy of a relaxing bath. He shaves my legs; I tell him about the day’s news. He washes my hair; I suggest weekend plans. During a time in our relationship where communication and privacy are often hard to find, our love languages evolved to find a way.

My husband and I still argue sometimes. I can still be overly aggressive when I’m disappointed and he’s still passive aggressive when he feels talked down to. We have disagreements about his mother, my sister, our children…but our sex life hasn’t ever been a focus of a fight. What I’ve learned most after 10 years of marriage is that any relationship built on passion and strengthened through communication, mutual respect, and a little creativity will be a happy one.