One of the most common complaints older couples have about their love life has to do with the boredom that can arise between long-term partners. It is true: routine can sometimes set in after a while. The thrill of taking off a partner’s clothes is not so thrilling when you have unveiled the same body hundreds of times and you’ve seen it naked every day of your life.

If your partner of twenty-plus years says, “I want you,” it is not quite as exciting as having the same words whispered into your ear by someone you just met. You do not have to be youth-obsessed or an ageist to be more turned on by a young, tight, lithe body than the familiar one that gravity and time have altered.

Researchers studying animal sexuality coined a term for this behavioral pattern—the Coolidge Effect. If you put a male mouse in a cage with a female mouse in heat, he will quickly mount her. After he ejaculates, he will rest before going at it again. The time he takes to rejuvenate—the refractory period—is predictable. It varies from one species to another, but it exists among all rats, roosters, rams, rhinos, and humans. After the second ejaculation, the male will rest again, only this time the refractory period is longer. The same is true after the third copulation, the fourth, the fifth, and so on. The animal takes longer and longer to recover until it finally reaches exhaustion.

That much seems obvious. Here is the interesting part. If at any point you remove the female mouse and replace her with a different one, it is back to square one for the male. No matter how many times he has ejaculated, introduce a new female and his refractory period bounces back to nearly what it was after only one or two copulations. This is the Coolidge Effect.

Why that name? Legend has it that President Calvin Coolidge, the austere conservative called “Silent Cal,” was visiting a farm with his wife. Noticing an unusually large number of chicks and eggs, Mrs. Coolidge remarked that the few roosters in the barnyard must be prodigious studs. The farmer proudly replied that the roosters did their duty dozens of times a day. “You might point that out to Mr. Coolidge,” said the First Lady.

Evidently, Silent Cal was not as prudish as his reputation suggests. He asked the farmer if each rooster had to service the same hen every time. When the farmer told him that the roosters could mate freely with any hen they wanted, the president responded, “You might point that out to Mrs. Coolidge.”

No one is sure if that story is true, but it should be, and it certainly deserves to have an effect named after it.

There is no question that new equals exciting, whether it is a new car, a new song, or a new sex partner. Nothing will revive a man more quickly and more vigorously than a new partner, preferably one who is young, attractive, and receptive. That observation may seem subversive to those who value monogamy and cherish the undeniable spiritual and emotional benefits of lasting love. Nevertheless, men who have difficulty making love to their longtime partners can be dynamos with their mistresses or secret lovers.

This is not to suggest that all men should take mistresses. However, a surprisingly large number of men, especially middle-aged men, think they are losing their sexual power when all that is happening is a predictable lessening of desire due to a sex life built around familiarity and routine.

Of course, assuming that new is always better can also be dangerous. Too many men jeopardize, and sometimes forfeit, longstanding relationships of immense value in pursuit of someone new and young. Often, men merely substitute one set of problems for another. Many men solve their boredom problems temporarily, only to realize later that they desperately miss the love and companionship they squandered.

Solutions to the Coolidge Effect can often be found within the confines of a good, monogamous relationship. Those same animal researchers found that the male’s vigor can return, even without a new female, if something else is altered. This could be a new scent or a unique appearance of the old, familiar mate (the researchers achieved this by painting the female mouse’s coat a new color). The lesson here for humans is that although familiarity might not breed contempt, it certainly can breed boredom and disinterest. The ultimate goal is to break your old and tired habits.

Here are seven ideas that can help put the spark back into your love life:

  1. Change your routines.
  2. Use your imagination.
  3. Make love in different places or at different times.
  4. Wear different clothing.
  5. Daub yourself with unusual scents.
  6. Try different positions.
  7. Experiment with different types of foreplay.

If sex isn’t what it used to be, do not give up on yourself by thinking you are over the hill or that you have suddenly become impotent. Whatever it takes to bring a sense of freshness and adventure to your sex life, do it!


Photo by Jean-François Gornet, CC BY-SA 2.0