Many people find it challenging to maintain an active and exciting sex life with the same partner. In response, countless self-help books and articles have been published with the goal of helping couples reclaim passion and put the “magic” back into their relationships.

Are these authors promising false hope, or is it really possible to keep passion alive for the long haul?

A new study published in the Journal of Sex Research finds that it is indeed possible — there’s a lot we can learn from couples who have successfully kept the spark in their relationships.

In a study led by psychologist Dr. David Frederick of Chapman University, researchers analyzed data from 38,747 people who completed an online sex survey for On average, participants were nearly 40 years old, and all were heterosexual and either married or living with a long-term partner of at least three years.

Participants were asked how their feelings of sexual satisfaction and passion had changed over time, how often they communicate about sex with their partner, as well as numerous questions about their sexual practices, such as how often they have oral sex, and whether they take time to “set the mood” before getting it on.

The results revealed that sexual satisfaction tended to decrease over time. Whereas 83 percent of men and women were satisfied early on in their relationship, only 43 percent of men and 55 percent of women said that they were currently satisfied.

In addition, most participants said that the passion in their relationships had decreased. Just 38 percent of women and 32 percent of men reported having just as much passion in their relationship now as they did when it first started.

Perhaps not surprisingly, those who were still sexually satisfied and had enduring passion reported having the most sex and the most consistent orgasms. However, there were five other key differences between those who kept the passion alive and those who did not. Specifically, people who maintained passion:

1. Received more oral sex

2. Spent more time “setting the mood” for sex (e.g., playing music, lighting candles)

3. Engaged in more sexual communication (e.g., asking for what you want, asking your partner if something feels good)

4. Had more variety in their sexual activities (e.g., wearing sexy underwear/lingerie, watching porn together, using sex toys)

5. Had more satisfying relationships overall

These results tell us a few important things. First, the quality of your sex life is related to the quality of your overall relationship. What this means is that if you want to keep the passion alive, you probably need to invest time working on the non-sexual aspects of your relationship, too, such as engaging in intimacy-promoting activities like spooning or cuddling after sex.

Second, maintaining passion is very much tied to the way people approach sex and the activities they engage in. Sexual routines appear to be the enemy of passion. Mix it up, and maybe take some time to establish a sexy or romantic mood first.

Third, enduring passion is unlikely unless you establish good sexual communication. It is only through communication that you and your partner can come to understand each other’s sexual likes and dislikes. If you expect each other to be mind-readers in bed, nobody’s going to get what they want.

Finally, if you’re wondering why oral sex is related to enduring passion, it might have something to do with the fact that oral sex not only offers sexual variety, but receiving it also increases the odds of orgasm, especially for women.

Despite the large sample and the fact that many of the findings are consistent with other studies, it’s important to highlight that we cannot conclude cause and effect from these data. While it’s likely that these five things help maintain passion, it’s also likely that people who are more satisfied and passionate to begin with are more inclined to try them. Even if you try all of these things, there’s no guarantee that it will keep passion going because different things might work for different people.

That said, the results of this study provide reason for optimism. Sexual passion doesn’t have to decline or disappear in a long-term relationship, and if you want to keep your own spark alive, a good place to start might be to take a cue from other couples that have done it successfully.

To learn more about this study, see: Frederick, D., Lever, J, Gillespie, B., & Garcia, J. (2016). What Keeps Passion Alive? Sexual Satisfaction is Associated with Sexual Communication, Mood Setting, Sexual Variety, Oral Sex, Orgasm, and Sex Frequency in a National U.S. Study. The Journal of Sex Research.

Justin Lehmiller, PhD is a sex educator and researcher at Ball State University and author of the blog Sex and Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @JustinLehmiller.

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