With so many conversations around sex over drinks, between close friends, in magazine columns and on television, it raises the question: Just how important is sex in a relationship? Well, sex is as important to a relationship as it is to the people in it. It varies depending on the individual. Sex matters a lot to some people and it’s less important or not important at all to some people and some couples.
Not every relationship requires an active sex life. There are perfectly happy and healthy couples who don’t have sex, and this isn’t a problem as long as both are truly happy and okay with this. If at least one person in the relationship does want sex, that’s when it becomes important for partners to work on creating a mutually satisfying sex life. Research has found a link between sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction, so it’s important for both people to feel good about the state of their sex life and to address any issues that come up.
With problems arising around sex, couples may have to deal with negative feelings, distance between the partners, and damage to the strength of the relationship. Problems in the bedroom have a tendency to impact how people view their relationship as a whole. When sex is working well for a couple, it feels like it’s about 20% of what makes their relationship great. It’s important, and it’s a factor in their happiness, but it’s in proportion to all the other things in their life. But when it isn’t working, it can feel like it’s 80% of their life together. It can overshadow the other parts that may be working really well. So, sex becomes more important as it goes badly.
Sex isn’t important to all relationships, and couples can have happy and healthy relationships without sex. That said, in those relationships where it is important to one or both partners, issues in a couple’s sex life can be tied to issues in the relationship as a whole.
Why does sex have an impact on relationships? First and foremost, giving and receiving physical pleasure is just a uniquely intimate experience. Sex is an opportunity for sensory pleasure. To share in moments of pleasure with someone you care about, and especially to help co-create pleasure for one another can be a deeply connecting and intimate experience.
It’s also a time for couples to spend focused, intentional time connecting with each other where we prioritize time with our partner, it’s also something that’s only shared between the two of you, making it extra special. There’s also a creative, playful aspect to sex, and it often acts as an important place for couples to connect in a way that’s free from the stresses of daily life.
Not all sex is created equal. Good sex is what’s important. Bad sex that is obligatory, going through the motions, painful, resentful, hostile, or worse, isn’t going to provide benefits.
There are also many physical and emotional benefits to having sex and orgasms, including: reduced stress levels, improved sleep, release of oxytocin which promotes bonding, release of other “feel-good” hormones like dopamine, supports stronger pelvic floor muscles, promotes stronger commitment in relationships, and promotes relationship satisfaction
However, not all sex is created equal. Good sex is what’s important. Bad sex that is obligatory, going through the motions, painful, resentful, hostile, or worse, isn’t going to provide benefits.
What about sexless relationships? Sexless relationships are not inherently good or bad. Some people love being in a relationship that doesn’t involve sex, while that same experience can feel devastating and lonely to others.
Sometimes couples who typically enjoy sex nonetheless will go through periods of less sex than usual. Whether or not that’s a problem depends on why the couple stopped having sex and how the couple feels about the change.
If both partners are in agreement to not have sex, then not having sex is not a problem and can bring people closer as they create the kind of relationship that honors their desires. The trouble is when folks are not in agreement about the sex they do or do not have; this can make sex a source of conflict and contention. Sex is also not inherently more important to men than it is to women or other genders. We gender sexual desire, mostly as an extension of the sexism that over-polices women’s bodies and centers the needs of men in relationships. We push the narrative that men want sex, and women just put up with it, and the more we hear those stereotypes, the more we internalize them as inherent truths which subconsciously impacts how we act and even how we feel, and can impact patterns on a societal level. Constantly repeating those stereotypes about one gender always wanting more sex than the others can often do more harm than good, It is limiting and creates shame and fear for people whose bodies, emotions, or relationships don’t fit comfortably within the narrative.
There is no ‘enough’ or ‘right’ or ‘healthy’ amount of sex. If both people are happy, they are having enough. How often a couple should have sex will depend on what each person in the relationship wants and how they collaborate to create a sex life that works for both people. And generally speaking, if you are focused on frequency of sex, you’re probably focused on the wrong thing.