Would that all sex could be mind-blowing. Unfortunately, bad sex is a thing—but sometimes it seems like lackluster sex is actually worse. At least bad sex is identifiable. You know it when you see it, whether the tipoff is a vagina as dry as the Sahara, someone who almost jackhammers you into another plane of existence, or chemistry as explosive as a drenched firework. But when you’re dealing with so-so sex that isn’t terrible, it can feel like you’re supposed to settle for what you’ve got, especially if you’re in an otherwise happy relationship. But you don’t. Whether your sexual relationship is barely on life support or could just use a boost, you can start actually enjoying it again by asking yourself a few inspired questions experts pose to clients going through the same thing.
“I see a lot of people whose sex problems are so broad—there are so many possible issues that have a lot of possible causes,” sex therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist Ian Kerner, Ph.D., author of She Comes First, tells SELF. Instead of opening up the Pandora’s box of their current sexual stumbling blocks, Kerner takes a huge step back by asking them one key question: If you were to wake up in three months with your ideal sex life, what exactly would have changed?
“I have them tell me about the sex they would like to be having, not the sex they’re not having or the sex they’re having and not liking,” Kerner says. He encourages his patients to get really specific, like, “Instead of always doing it at 11 o’clock at night when I’m exhausted, I’d love to have sex on a lazy Saturday morning after my partner starts going down on me, waking me up from my sleep.” Much more descriptive than “we never have spontaneous sex,” no?
Approaching the situation with this question helps him frame the therapy around a tangible goal instead of troubleshooting issues that don’t necessarily get at the root of the problem. If you try it yourself, it can open the floodgates, giving you the perfect launching pad to then identify what obstacles are standing in the way of you having the sex life you want.
You could also take a different approach and look back instead of looking forward, Gary Brown, Ph.D, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, tells SELF. His crucial question is this: What do you notice about your sexuality that’s different than it was in the past, and why is this coming up now? Answering that can help you pinpoint potential causes of any sexual changes, like hormonal imbalances, drinking more than usual, and new antidepressants. It can also help you determine subtle changes in your relationship that might be contributing to the dilemma without you realizing it, like you and your partner slowly falling into the routines that are so liable to creep up in long-term bonds.
When couples have different ideas of their ideal sex lives or what’s currently not up to par, implementing changes can get tricky. To help them find a middle ground that lets each partner get closer to his or her ideal without alienating the other, Kerner will often ask couples to identify the “deep end of the pool” in their sexual fantasies, then ask them if they’re both OK dipping a toe into “the shallow end” of what the other wants. “It’s a negotiation not so different from the way you’d talk about money and budgeting,” he says.
No matter the reason behind your dull sex life, talking to your partner about what’s up is basically the only way to fix it. It’s possible to work your way up and out of a sexual rut as long as you’re both committed to doing so. “If one or both of you doesn’t feel comfortable having this conversation by yourselves, go talk to local therapist or counselor,” Brown says. However you do it, talk to each other, he emphasizes. Then, pat yourselves on the back for taking the first step toward the sex life you want and deserve.