How Important Is Sex In A Relationship?
By Nate Miller
Updated March 19, 2020
Relationships are built on trust and shared experiences. They are built on knowing who your partner is, and genuine shared attraction for one another. You know your partner's deepest secrets, fears, and dreams, and you are drawn to them anyway. You have been vulnerable with one another, and you know that the other person has your back and is passionately excited about who you are.
As relationships grow, this mutual attraction can be more based on shared philosophies, perspectives, and life goals. However, in the beginning, there is a strong physical component to our attraction to romantic partners, and though it may decrease in importance, that physical attraction will always matter. Sex is a huge part of establishing those early connections and maintaining genuine affection.
How important is sex in a relationship? It's very important. Every couple should understand how much they want to have, and while declining sex is in no way a bad omen, it's worth having a healthy and open conversation about it in your relationship. The last thing you want is one or both people being constantly unsatisfied but not saying anything about it. That sort of silence can lead to increased distance and, eventually, separation.
In this article, you will learn about why sex is important, what can lead to its decline, how to assess whether or not you are having enough, and what to do if you think your sex life could use some work.
Why Is Sex So Important For Relationships?
On a basic level, your sex drive is a fundamental part of your biology. Humanity has evolved to maintain extraordinary levels of comfort and strive to achieve higher principles, but we are still motivated by a desire to seek physical pleasure and procreate. Sex is highly pleasurable and leads to creating more offspring, something we all feel to varying degrees. Accepting that sex is something your brain is going to seek in one form or another is important for emotional health. Anything you can do to minimize stress levels for your relationship is a good thing.
Why sex is important to relationships involves a lot more than just physical drives, however. There are strong emotions that come into play. Sex develops a deeper sense of commitment and affection. It's a way of being completely vulnerable with your partner that increases confidence that you truly care for one another. After all, many of us are insecure about our physical appearance and our abilities as sexual performers. When we find someone who loves everything about us, including those aspects, it's very affirming.
There are all sorts of physical benefits doctors have identified from sex over the years. While things like increased physical fitness or improved immune response shouldn't be the primary driver behind pursuing sex or not, it certainly doesn't hurt its positive impacts.
Perhaps most importantly, when sex is a positive experience for both partners, it can create a positive feedback loop. Enjoyable sex with your partner can help you feel more affectionate for them and more satisfied in general with your relationship. This helps you feel more comfortable, relaxed, and happy around your partner, which in turn can lead to increased physical intimacy. While the amount and type of sex can vary widely for different couples, studies show that it can improve your relationship.
If Sex Is So Great, Why Are There So Many Problems Around It?
There are several emotional, physical, and psychological factors that can lead to changing sex life. The first and most obvious is that all relationships tend to decrease in the amount of sex over time. In the early days, the spark of attachment is strong and invigorating. You are just getting to know one another, and many couples go through a period where they have an inordinately high amount of sex. It's fun, but it doesn't last. Sex numbers decline over time as the relationship goes on.
Another common factor that limits sexual contact is changing priorities. As relationships deepen, you may start to take on bigger goals together, such as buying a house or raising a family. You will become more deeply entangled in each other's personal and professional lives. Your priorities may shift from being as romantic as possible to support each other at work. When your relationship starts to turn towards these factors that may encourage long-term commitment, sex can decline or even fall by the wayside.
This is also connected to how stress can drive down sex. Individually or as a couple, you may become embroiled in several stressful issues. Because your lives are so deeply intertwined, your partner's stresses become your stresses and vice versa. When general anxiety is high, it becomes harder to initiate sex comfortably. The stress barrier isn't insurmountable, but it does take awareness of the problem and deliberate action to overcome.
Physical barriers can also develop. Your partner may develop a health problem that makes sex difficult, if not impossible. A health crisis can lead to a physical change that decreases your attraction to one another, making sex less spontaneous and fun than it used to be. Many couples report that after having children, their sex drive plummeted. Whatever the cause, your body can seem to lose interest in sex.
Finally, just like having sex can lead to a subconscious feedback loop, not having sex can lead to a negative feedback loop. Because sex is so emotional, not having it can be emotionally fraught. When your partner doesn't feel like having sex, it can feel like they don't want to be with you, that maybe they don't even care for you the way they used to. This can damage your self-esteem and intimacy, leading to greater distance and distrust, leading to even less sex. Couples in this situation can start feeling like their only escape is to cheat.
Are You Having Enough Sex?
There is no short answer to this question, no equation or assessment tool to set the number of times, length of session, and a variety of activities you and your partner should have. Sex is very dependent on each person's libido and general interest. If you are feeling like having lots of sex, but your partner is almost never interested, that's a bad sign. Similarly, if both people feel fairly in sync about what's a good amount, that can be great.
What matters most is not having enough sex, but having the right amount for you and your partner. This is why having an open and honest conversation about sex is so important. Society places a lot of pressure on the idea that what matters is how many people you have sex with and how often. Even just by comparing yourselves to your immediate social circles, if some of your friends seem to be doing it all the time, it can feel like if you're not having sex, it's because your relationship isn't as strong.
This isn't true, however. Some people love sex, can't get enough of it, and have the stamina to do it well for a long time. Some people are interested in almost never having sex, if at all. Most of us are somewhere in between, and there's a lot of variability in there. As with other issues, what matters with sex is how close are you on how much is enough, how well do you communicate about it, and how well do you handle times when you're out of sync?
Before you start talking to your partner about sex, keep the following tips in mind. Don't try to talk about sex just before or just after having sex. Talking about it just before will make the ensuing sex more awkward (if not cancel it outright). Talking about it immediately after can come across like you have judgments or problems that you just thought of during the act. Try to start the conversation in a more neutral way, where you can both be a little more relaxed about it.
If you aren't sure where your partner is on sex, or you would like to start exploring the subject with them more deeply, here are some questions you can start asking each other to develop a better conversation.
- What do you like, what makes you feel good, what excites you? Write down things that you have tried and enjoyed, maybe even things you want to explore, and be ready to share those.
- What are your feelings around sex, good and bad? What do you like about it, what stresses you out, where do you think your hang-ups and quirks come from, how can your partner help or hurt in those areas? The more details you can share about where you are coming from and why the better prepared you can be to care for one another properly.
- What, in general, does sex mean to you? How does that vary in different situations? Sex does not always have to be a romantic and careful encounter, nor does it have to be a hard and fast affair. It's healthy to acknowledge that you don't want the same experience or connection every time.
These are just some considerate starting points for exploring this topic with your partner. Whatever you do, understand that this will likely need to be a series of conversations. Sex is complicated.It takes time to dig up, understand, and discuss all the different thoughts and feelings around it. If you and your partner can learn to take the time to do that, you will both be better for it, and so will your relationship.
What Can You Do To Improve Your Sex Life Together?
If you've done the work of understanding all the different roles that sex can play in your relationship and also taken the time to reflect on your desires while also discussing them with your partner, you may have decided that your sex life needs some adjustment. There is nothing wrong with this. Many couples don't realize they have an issue around sex until they take some time to look at. It's easy to drift into a new normal before you realize things are different. But now that you do know, and are working with a healthier open dialogue, you can start taking steps to address it.
Here are some general tips to improve your sex life
- See a relationship counselor. Professional help is always valuable, but when it comes to talking about sex, it can be vital. You and your partner may be lucky enough to have such a close bond that, even when talking about sex, you can be present, calm, and compassionate. For many people, however, some professional support is crucial to keeping things moving in a positive direction.
- Consider different books or resources to explore your ideas. If you had a good conversation during your talk about sex with your partner, you probably identified either area you want to improve or completely new things you want to try. There are countless resources out there for new and interesting ways to spice up your sex life. Don't be afraid to use them.
- Be intentional about changing things up, even to the point of scheduling it. Talking about sex in a new way is one thing. Trying something new with your partner can be a whole different kind of daunting. Get on the same page about what you want to try, when, and possibly even how you plan to do it. If you aren't intentional about it, you're much more likely to slip back to old habits. Talking about it beforehand will also make it ok if it doesn't work out. Sometimes new ideas take practice, so create a safe space for you both to experiment.
- Continue to practice patience. Even with all the healthy dialogue and support in the world, tempers can flare, self-esteem can be wounded, and doubts can start to creep in. This is natural. Do not panic if negative feelings emerge. Acknowledge them as part of the process of learning something new, reaffirm your excitement for learning to do these new things with your partner, and try to be present for their struggles as well.
Everyone Has Sex, But Not The Same Way
Sex is simultaneously a universal idea that everyone understands and an extraordinarily individual experience between two specific people. With strong roots in our biology and psychology, it's no wonder that trying to achieve a 'healthy sex life' is such a common issue. One of the keys to getting there, as with any relationship issue, is open and honest communication backed by patience and compatibility.
Working with your partner to understand one another's desires and work towards a common goal is tricky under the best of circumstances. While you will both have to learn to work together, achieving real growth is much easier with the support of certified relationship counselors. With professionals like the ones at ReGain, you and your loved one can get well on track.
In the end, how much sex you have isn't as important as if it's the right amount for each of you. Sex is important in a relationship, but only in so far as it's yet another expression of how well you click with each other. If you use the questions and ideas described in this article, you'll be one step closer to understanding how to manage sex in your own life healthily.