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The Sexual Escalator: Should Your Sex Life Keep Getting Better Every Year?

Last updated September 12, 2018
The Sexual Escalator: Should your sex life keep getting better every year?

At MysteryVibe HQ, we’re pretty much all sex nerds. And because we’re sex nerds, our news and social feeds are constantly full of sex tips: some enlightening, others terrible, and a few make us chuckle like this recent article about 7 habits of people who keep their sex lives hot.

Some of the advice in there is great – emphasising communication, laughter, and the importance of physical touch and intimacy. But one of the points stood out, as the author claimed that one of the habits of successful long-term couples is that:

“Every year, they get a little bit dirtier…

…Couples with hot sex lives are always upping the ante in the bedroom. Whether it’s grapefruiting (see below) or trying some next-level sex position, they seek out the new and unexplored.”

It’s a nice idea, and for those of us who enjoy sex the thought that it could simply keep getting better year on year is a pretty tempting one. But when you examine it in detail, the whole thing turns messy.

What is the Sexual Escalator?

Year 1: You meet, fall for each other, and spend time having sex wherever you can because – hey! – sex is exciting and this person’s cool!

Year 5: You’ve explored a lot of your mutual fantasies, but you still have a few more to try out. So you get stuck in to buying sex toys and bondage equipment and crossing things off your bucket list.

Year 10: The well of ideas has run dry, and the only kinks you haven’t tried yet are ones neither of you fancy. Still, you feel you should press on regardless in order to make sure you keep ‘upping the ante.’

Year 15: Exhausted, the pair of you gaze blankly at yet another weird sex tip. ‘Grapefruiting?’ one of you asks, remembering the scene from that film that recommended putting half a grapefruit on someone’s penis (yes, really) while you give them a blow job. You both try it but neither of your hearts are in it. Still, at least you’ve been keeping things hot!

The Sexual Escalator: Should Your Sex Life Keep Getting Better Every Year? Grapefruiting

It’s weird, right? And reads a little bit like a nightmare that you can’t escape from. The ‘get hotter every year’ is a damaging myth, and perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

It’s not that your sex life is inevitably going to go downhill in a long-term relationship. It’s because sex drives naturally wax and wane over time depending on a whole variety of different factors.

The old trope was that after a certain amount of time in a relationship (often pegged as 7 years – hence the ‘7 year itch’), the quality and quantity of sex that you have together is inevitably going to decline.

We know now that’s simply not true: for many people, sex only gets better with age. The older years are the ones where many feel most sexually confident, and many women in particular find their sex drive increases with age, even after menopause. For others, the simple knowledge that this person is in it for the long haul can help them feel more comfortable introducing kinks and fantasies, and increasing their ‘dirtiness’ as the relationship grows.

But does this always have to go in one direction? Is it admirable – or even possible – to continually ‘up the ante’ in the bedroom?

Escalator Relationships and Early Sex

The idea that couples must always ‘progress’ when it comes to sex and relationships is not a new one. In romantic relationships, it’s commonly referred to as the ‘relationship escalator’ – the idea that when you’re with someone, you should both be looking to take the ‘next step up’, and if you hit a plateau, or even take a step back from each other, then your relationship is unsuccessful.

The website ‘off the escalator’ explains it like this:

“Relationship Escalator. The default set of societal expectations for intimate relationships. Partners follow a progressive set of steps, each with visible markers, toward a clear goal.

The goal at the top of the Escalator is to achieve a permanently monogamous (sexually and romantically exclusive between two people), cohabitation marriage — legally sanctioned if possible. In many cases, buying a house and having kids is also part of the goal. Partners are expected to remain together at the top of the Escalator until death.”

If you’re currently in a long-term relationship, and you’re frustrated by the pressure from family and friends to get married, buy a house or have children, you’ll understand this well. But there are other ways in which we’re pressured to keep pushing for the ‘next big step’ – most notably in sexual relationships.

Ever heard someone brag that they got to ‘second base’? The idea that there’s a hierarchy of sexual acts in the early stages of a relationship works similarly to the escalator model. We’re often taught, especially when we’re just starting to explore sex with other people, that there’s a ‘right’ journey to take on the road to sexual discovery.

Kissing comes first, then touching, then perhaps mutual masturbation or oral sex. The ‘home run’ of penetrative sex comes a little later. It’s not the healthiest model on which to base sexual exploration, for the simple (and we think obvious) reason that not everyone enjoys the same thing!

If we look at sex as something that must always ‘progress’ through defined stages that sit in a hierarchy determined by other people, this doesn’t leave much room for individuals to decide what they actually want to do.

These days we’re much better at identifying which of our sexual assumptions are harmful when it comes to sex education and early sexual discovery, but in the context of long-term relationships this idea of becoming ‘kinkier’ or ‘dirtier’ or ‘hotter’ as the years progress is fairly new, and so we haven’t seen it challenged much before.

So we thought we’d have a go at tackling why it’s not a great model.

The Sexual Escalator: Should Your Sex Life Keep Getting Better Every Year? The Relationship Escalator

What to Expect from Sex in a Long-Term Relationship

The first thing to remember is that no matter how ‘hot’ other people’s relationships are, you’re only ever going to see them from the outside. Any idea that you should ‘keep up with the Joneses’ by ticking lots of kinky boxes needs to be put to one side forever.

Although there are plenty of advice articles on how to have more sex, hotter sex, kinkier sex, and so on, your sex life should be determined by you and your partner.

The other important thing to remember is that there are many different things that can have an effect on your sex life. Not just physical and mental health issues, but simple things like the daily pressure of living your lives.

You might really want to have a sex life that keeps getting hotter each year, but during years where you’re having children, moving house, and burdened with piles of work stress, you might not be able to spare the time or the energy to try out every position in the Mystery Playbook.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, who exactly gets to decide what counts as ‘dirtier’ or ‘hotter’?

It may be that you grow closer to each other as the years go by, and your sex becomes more intimate or better suited as you learn more about each other’s bodies.

It may be that you do want to go on more sexual adventures, upping the ante to see which boundaries you can (consensually) push.

Or it may be that you decide sex just isn’t a priority for you at certain times in your life.

All of these are valid choices to make, and not things you should feel guilty about. The important thing is to discuss sex openly with your partner, communicate about what you both want, and try to make sure that both of you are happy without feeling pressure to follow a particular script.

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