“Passion comes easily in the early days of a relationship. it’s nature’s way of drawing us together. But after the captivating rush of desire, what is the place of sex in a relationship? Besides pulling us in, can sex also help to keep us together to build a lasting relationship? Emphatically, yes. In fact, good sex is a potent bonding experience. The passion of infatuation is just the hors d’oeuvre. Loving sex in a long-term relationship is the entree”, according to Dr. Sue Johnson in Hold Me Tight
Much of what we hear in popular culture and from some self-help gurus is that passion is a passing sensation, which fades as a relationship matures. The high intensity of sexual desire that characterizes the beginning of your relationship is thought to inevitably diminish with time. This is not empirically true.
When couples feel secure in their relationship, then emotional connection creates great sex and great sex deepens the emotional connection. For emotionally accessible, responsive and engaged couples, touch and sex become intimate play where sexual needs, deepest joys and vulnerabilities are shared. Sexually satisfied couples are truly ‘making love’.
Happy couples attribute only 15-20% of their happiness to a satisfying sex life. In contrast, unhappy couples believe that 50-70% of their unhappiness is due to an unsatisfying sex life. (McCarthy & McCarthy, 2003). The reason sex is such a big issue with unhappy couples is because it is the first thing affected when a relationship begins to falter. It is not usually the real problem, but more of a symptom of a larger problem. It is a bit like the “canary in the coal mine” warning a couple of danger. It signals that the couple does not feel emotionally safe with each other. The security of our emotional connection defines our relationship in bed as well as out.
The most common physical sexual problems are low sex drive for women and premature ejaculation for men. This is not surprising. When women are unhappy in relationships they typically feel alone, emotionally disconnected. If they are seeking reassurance that they are valued for who they are as a person and feel objectified for his sexual needs, they shut down sexually and their own desire diminishes. When men are unhappy in the relationship, they often focus more on their sexual performance and their own release rather than focussing on pleasing her. When she senses this, it can make her feel more alone and sex becomes less pleasurable for her. This reinforces his sense of inadequacy, and the infrequent and unsatisfying sex continues. Then sex becomes identified as ‘the’ problem for a couple. On the other hand, when couples can focus on improving tender and loving communication, and create a secure emotional connection, their sex life usually improves automatically.
Deepening Your Connection through Touch and Sex
If you or your partner is not feeling emotionally secure and safe in your relationship, it will not be possible to have a constructive conversation about improving the quality of your sex life. I have written in previous articles about how to create a greater sense of security by knowing: how accessible, responsive and engaged are you, how to stop destructive conversations, how to identify your raw spots, how to de-escalate conflict , how to find the courage to ask for the love you need and how to heal a relationship wound. Being competent in relationship skills discussed in these previous newsletters and blog posts will make it more likely for you to be able to have deeper conversations, which will help you both feel closer and more secure. For those of you in more secure relationships, you must have the courage to reveal your own deeper desires and needs, which may have changed over time.
If you and your partner are feeling emotionally secure, below are a few suggestions to deepen your connection through touch and sex. Some of these ideas may be quite hard to do. Perhaps more attention on touch than on sex is a good place to start. Remember to stay open, responsive and engaged as you have these conversations.
- When out for a walk together hold your partner’s hand. Watch TV sitting close together on the couch. When cooking dinner, give your partner a hug or a kiss on the back of the neck. Demonstrate your affection, terms of endearment, with kisses and hugs when you leave or come home or go to sleep and wake up.
- With your partner, recall a time in your relationship when sex was really satisfying. The person who tends to initiate sex less often, goes first. Share the story of this pleasant and happy experience with your partner in as much detail as possible. Talk about what you think made it so memorable. Then the other person shares a different story.
- Think of all the ways touch can show up in your relationship. For example, holding hands while out together, a spontaneous hug while making dinner, giving a shoulder or back massage, a shower or bath together or brushing each other’s hair. Take turns telling your partner your favourite nonsexual ways of being touched.
Touch can be enjoyable way of connecting emotionally. It does not always have to lead to sex. Spontaneity, anticipation, surprise can create the right mood. Touch is a powerful expression of love. Sex can then be simply for fun, as way of getting close, a straight forward release, a way to deal with stress, a route to romance, a place of tender connection or a burst of passion.