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Is Sex Important in a Relationship?

Laura Richer, Seattle Therapist

Jun 17, 2021

What constitutes a satisfying sexual experience, and how important sex is to relationship satisfaction, depends on the couple. Sex may increase emotional closeness and contribute to maintaining a healthy relationship. Over time, sexual frequency may change however that doesn’t mean relationships have to fizzle. You can maintain a great sexual relationship in a long term relationship if you are intentional and make sexual activity a priority.

Relationship satisfaction is higher in men and women that feel emotionally connected to their partners. Sex more often can improve connection in supportive relationships. However, if a couple want to have sex and feel emotional intimacy to one another without a physical relationship than it is not a problem.

Can a relationship survive without sex?

Yes. If the couple does not want a sexual relationship they can still have an intimate relationship. Both individuals need to be in agreement that intercourse is not necessary to maintain a romantic bond with one another. A relationship where one partner desires a sex and the other does not is not likely to survive without sex.

While some couples may not require intercourse to feel satisfaction in their marriage, others couldn’t imagine feeling a true emotional bond without a sex. There is not a one size fits all recipe for a satisfying physical relationship, it is dependent on the preferences of the individual and couple. What is important is that you find someone compatible with your level of desire.

How does sex affect a relationship?

It depends on the couple, their history and beliefs around sexual activity, their communication, and whether or not sex is a positive experience that makes the couple feel good or if it is a source of tension. Sex can be a positive experience that is a source of pleasure and happiness in a relationship or it can be negative if the relationship is strained or either partner has a history of sexual trauma, mismatched libido, or health issues that can be hormone related or otherwise.

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Does sex strengthen a relationship?

Yes it certainly can. Research shows that in supportive relationships sexual activity can improve intimacy, boost self-esteem and positive body image, reduce stress, and offer benefits such as lower blood pressure and improved sleep that benefit overall health. When a person feels good with their partner they find strength in the relationship.

How often should a couple have sex?

This is a personal preference for couples. Age, stage of life, and levels of stress may all impact frequency a person desires sex. On average adults engage in intercourse once a week, however frequency should not be a much of a concern as the quality of the time spent together. Couples with young children or older adults may have sex with less frequency while younger age adults may be more. There is no “normal”, what is important is that the couple feels satisfied with their sex life and that they define what that means.

A healthy sex life improves intimacy, but it’s not the only way

Physical affection does not have to be sexual. Couples who do not desire sex do can achieve intimacy in other ways. Holding hands, receiving or giving a massage, and cuddling on the couch are all physically intimate activities that are non sexual. Emotional closeness can also be achieved through spending one on one time together, long conversations, and exploring new places together. Couples counseling can help you discover ways to improve your relationship.

Sex drive and long-term compatibility

Our libidos fluctuate throughout our lives which is why sex drive is not necessarily an indicator of ongoing compatibility. For women, life events that cause hormonal changes such as childbirth and menopause can cause fluctuations in libido sexual and desire, for men aging and a decrease in testosterone levels can create similar fluctuations. Life stressors such as raising young children, high stress careers, financial stress, health challenges and illness, and the loss of loved ones can all significantly impact your desire for sexual activity.

While it is important for couples to have similar values and ideas about what constitutes satisfaction in their sex life it is unrealistic to assume that you and your spouse must always be on the exact same page for enduring compatibility. If one or both partners identify with physical touch as their primary love language, it’s likely that sex will be important for long-term compatibility.

How often should a couple have sex?

Partners should have sex as much or as little as they desire. Since libido varies throughout our life span and different relationships are sexually satisfied in different ways there is no magic number. Focus on what works for you and your significant other. The quality of your sexual activity is much more important than quantity.

Comparison is the thief of joy. Do not compare your sex life to someone else. Not everyone wants to have sex once a week and if your frequency varies from that but is satisfying to you than that is exactly how often you should be having sex and what is healthy for you.

Psychological benefits of sex

Research shows that there are many psychological benefits linked to the pleasure derived from sex that also have a positive impact on your physical health.

  1. Stress reduction through the release of feel good chemicals in the brain like dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins.
  2. Improved sleep quality.
  3. Boosts confidence and improved sense self-image.
  4. Higher rates of happiness.
  5. Bonding and closeness with your significant other.

Most partners have different sex drives

Two people are never having the exact same experience. Attraction is not the only thing that will impact your sex drive. Life stressors outside of your relationship can significantly impact your sex drive. Couples tend to experience fluctuations and may not always be on the same page. This is not a sign that your marriage is destined to fail.

It is often assumed that women have a lower drive than their male partners. This is not true. Both men and women may experience decreased sex drive at some point in their lives. Same sex couples are just as likely to encounter out of sync libidos. Reasonable expectations and open communication can help couples get through times when they are not on the same page about sex. If you find that different sex drives are having a negative impact on your marriage you may want to consult with a sex therapist.

Tips for a satisfying sex life

It is difficult to have great sex when you feel disconnected. A lot of what leads to a satisfying sex life happens outside of the bedroom. Don’t abandon the things that made sex in your relationship great in the first place. There are great benefits to flirting with your partner and maintaining physical affection towards one another. Spend time together doing the things that create connection which will often lead to physical connection.

Make your relationship a priority. Often people believe that their relationship will sustain on its own without their attention. This is absolutely not true. The reason sex is so easy in a new relationship is because we are so curious about our new love interests and often totally focused on getting to know everything about them and demonstrating your affection for them. Continue to be curious about your partner and invest in your relationship. As with anything else you will get out what you put in to the situation.

What to do when your sex life is stagnant

Go back to a time when sex was exciting. Work to bring back passion in your relationship. Revisit the things that excited you in the past. You can also explore trying something new. Talk to your partner and invite them to talk to you about what might spice things up. Seek out resources for inspiration such as self-help books, sexual conversation cards, online courses, and erotic games and toys.

Overtime past hurts and busy lives can create barriers to maintaining the health of your sexual connection. If talking about sex has become difficult or painful and doesn’t seem possible on your own there is help. A couples or sex therapist can help improve communication between couples and discover ways to improve sex in relationships




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