Is sex important in a relationship? It almost sounds like a trick question.
Sure, romance is one of the main qualities of successful relationships. And a part of that includes quality sex. But how big a role sex plays in your love life depends on you and your partner.
In a supportive relationship, there are many benefits to having more sex. Higher rates of sexual activity are linked to positive changes, such as lower blood pressure, reduced stress, greater intimacy, and even a lower divorce rate.
While there are no one-size-fits-all rules when it comes to an ideal sex frequency, here’s some insight from the latest research.
This article discusses why sex can be important in a relationship, some of the benefits that it may have, and statistics on how often couples typically have sex. It also covers challenges you might face and what you can do if you want to increase the amount of sex in your relationship.
Why Sex Is Important In Relationships
Sex isn’t always necessary, but it can be an important part of a healthy, fulfilling relationship. How important it is can vary from one individual to the next. Some people may feel that having a sexual connection with their partner is absolutely vital. Others may feel that other types of intimacy and connection are more important.
- It gives you an emotional high
- Sex can help relieve stress
- It can boost your confidence
- You’ll both get a better night’s sleep
- The intimacy extends beyond the bedroom
- Post-sex cuddles are the best (but really)
1. It gives you an emotional high
The blissful afterglow is one of the main reasons people do mega-intense workouts. And, it turns out, you experience a similar high after sex, thanks to the release of feel-good hormones.
Here’s how it works: Sex releases dopamine in the brain, which increases your ambition and sense of happiness; testosterone, which improves your performance at work; and endorphins, which reduce your stress level and minimize pain. “All of these hormones together play a complex role in human pair-bonding and are essential in maintaining the glue of a relationship,” says psychologist and relationship expert Danielle Forshee, PsyD.
Plus, a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin has found that having sex promotes overall well-being and fosters positive emotions, particularly within 24 hours of gettin’ down. So, in addition to the immediate gratification, the physical encounter with a partner creates a sort of lasting “hangover” that can strengthen your relationship, mood, and emotional bond.
2. Sex can help relieve stress
By now, you’ve probably tried the de-stressing staples: deep-breathing, massages, hot baths, and even hotter yoga. But why not add sex to the mix? “Sex releases oxytocin into the bloodstream, which promotes relaxation and stress relief,” says Francis. “And oxytocin also combats cortisol, the main stress hormone,” says Schewitz.
In fact, researchers have found that sex is similar to eating pleasurable “comfort food” in its ability to reduce tension by stimulating the brain’s reward system. An orgasm isn’t necessary to reap the benefits: Your body releases oxytocin after only 20 seconds of skin-to-skin contact, so any sort of physical touch is beneficial.
While the reduction in stress is beneficial to both parties individually, it’s beneficial to the relationship as a whole, too. “Even if stress is not relationship-specific, it can interfere with how good you feel in it,” Francis says.
3. It can boost your confidence
Sex may not give you an automatic turn of your BDE levels all the way up to Rihanna, but “it can be an incredibly confidence-boosting, body-loving moment for some people,” says Francis. “Most of us have some degree of insecurity, whether it is something about our physical body or not. But being validated by someone that we love and trust can help build confidence.”
That dopamine rush we’ve talked about also helps boost your mojo, says Courtney Cleman, CFA and co-founder of The V. Club, a wellness and education center in New York City. “The more we have dopamine, the more we feel good and we feel good about ourselves,” she says.
That’s key because your self-image has an impact on your sexual satisfaction. A 2012 review of research on the topic found that “body-image issues can affect all domains of sexual functioning,” from desire to arousal to satisfaction.
4. You’ll both get a better night’s sleep
In addition to increasing oxytocin and decreasing cortisol, sex also improves your sleep because you release a hormone called prolactin when you orgasm. This chemical can lead to deeper sleep and more time in the REM stage—the part of the sleep cycle when your brain and body are re-energized and your dreams occur.
A good night’s sleep is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle, in no small part because increases your mental wellbeing. And increased mental well-being means less irritability, which means you pick fewer fights with your partner.
For a bonus bae-boost while you snooze, scooch close to your S.O. before you doze off. According to research from the University of Hertfordshire, people who go to sleep touching report the highest rates of relationship bliss.
5. The intimacy extends beyond the bedroom
“[Sex creates] an intimacy feedback loop,” says Coleman. “The more intimacy you have in the bedroom, the more intimacy you’ll have outside the bedroom, and vice versa.” Research backs this up. A series published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that sex predicts affection and affection, in turn, predicts sexual activity.
“This loop is particularly beneficial to people who have physical touch as one of their primary love languages,” says Francis, referring to the concept introduced by Gary Chapman in his best-selling book. “If intimate touch is how you express love and receive love from our partners, then sex is a gateway for how you share affection and love,” she says.
6. Post-sex cuddles are the best (but really)
Getting all snuggly-wiggly with your boo is not only one of the greatest parts of the relationship for some people (it’s like a blanket burrito, but better), it can also make your relationship stronger. A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that kissing and cuddling after sex leads to a more satisfying and happier relationship. (Oxytocin FTW, again). But of course, to reap those post-sex benefits, the sex has to come first.
Benefits of Sex In Relationships
Beyond individual benefits for you and your partner, regular sex supports a healthy relationship in a number of ways. For instance, the oxytocin released during sex enhances a sense of bonding and improves emotional intimacy.
Sex in a monogamous relationship increases your level of commitment and emotional connection with the other person. Expressing love through sex increases the likelihood of couples staying together. As a result, sex is positively associated with a lower divorce rate.
Psychological Benefits of Sex
There are many emotional and psychological benefits of making love. Sex is strongly linked to a better quality of life. Some of these benefits include:
Sex can boost self-esteem and reduce feelings of insecurity, leading to more positive perceptions of ourselves.
Higher rates of happiness
According to a 2015 study conducted in China, more consensual sex and better quality sex increases happiness.
Brain chemicals are released during sex, including endorphins, which decrease irritability and feelings of depression. Another hormone, oxytocin (the “hug drug”) increases with nipple stimulation and other sexual activity. Oxytocin helps foster a sense of calmness and contentment.
Relief from stress
Chronic stress may contribute to lower sex frequency. However, sex can be an effective stress management technique. Sex reduces stress response hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline (epinephrine), with effects lasting well into the next day.
Improved sleep quality
Orgasms trigger the release of the hormone prolactin, which aids in sleep.6
Physical Benefits of Increased Sex
It’s fairly intuitive to understand how sex improves emotional health, but there are a number of physical benefits from sex as well. Some of these include:
Better physical fitness
Sex is a form of exercise. According to the American Heart Association, sexual activity is equivalent to moderate physical activities, like brisk walking or climbing two flights of stairs. The motion of sex can tighten and tone abdominal and pelvic muscles. For women, improved muscle tone improves bladder control.
Enhanced brain function
Preliminary studies on rats found that more frequent intercourse was correlated with better cognitive function and the growth of new brain cells. Similar benefits have since been observed in human studies. A 2018 study of over 6,000 adults linked frequent sex with better memory performance in adults ages 50 and older.
Improved immune function
Being more sexually active has positive effects on immune function. Regular sex may even lower your likelihood of getting a cold or the flu.
Lower pain levels
The endorphins from sex promote more than just a sense of well-being and calm. Sex endorphins also appear to reduce migraine and back pain.
May promote weight loss
Having sex for 30 minutes burns an average of 200 calories.10 The rewarding brain chemicals released during sex can subdue food cravings and support weight loss.
Positive cardiac effects
Sexual activity (but not masturbation) has been linked with lower systolic blood pressure.11 Elevated blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Sexual activity helps dilate blood vessels, increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body while reducing blood pressure.
Additional physical benefits
Being more sexually active boosts libido and increases vaginal lubrication. Frequent intercourse is associated with lighter menstrual periods and less painful period cramps. In addition, an improved sense of smell, healthier teeth, better digestion, and glowing skin may be related to the release of DHEA by the body after sex.
Potential Risks of Having More Sex
It was once believed that sex increases the risk of prostate cancer. However, a 2016 study discovered that men who had more ejaculations (21 or more per month) were less likely to develop the disease than men who had fewer ejaculations (seven or less per month). Since prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men,14 this effect worth noting.
For some, sex may increase the chances of a heart attack. Despite this risk, higher sex frequency may help. A 2011 study found that regular sexual activity diminishes heart attacks. Sex, along with other forms of physical activity, is protective. But, infrequent bursts of activity put added strain on the heart.15 Discuss your sexual activity with your doctor to evaluate your risks.
How to Increase Sex In Your Relationship
Frequency of sex can, and often does, change over time. But, that doesn’t mean sex frequency has to be a progressive downhill slide. If you’re wondering whether it’s possible for sex to be as good as when you first fell in love, the answer is yes. Sex and intimacy can improve as your relationship matures. It just may require a little extra work.
There are a number of ways to spice up your sex life. Looking at the non-sexual parts of your relationship can help.
It’s often stated that the biggest sex organ is between the ears. Upping sex frequency without connecting emotionally or increasing communication isn’t likely to produce lasting improvements in your relationship. Managing stress is another key factor for healthy sex life.
In her book, “The Sex-Starved Marriage: Boosting Your Marriage Libido, a Couple’s Guide,” therapist Michele Weiner-Davis suggests taking a “just do it” approach:
“At first, many were understandably cautious about my Nike-style approach to their sex life; the ‘Just Do It’ advice ran counter to everything they had believed about how sexual desire unfolds…I could often see the relief on people’s faces when they learned that their lack of out-of-the-blue sexual urges didn’t necessarily signify a problem. It didn’t mean there was something wrong with them or that something was missing from their marriages. It just meant that they experienced desire differently.”
If you always wait for your level of desire to match that of your partner, you may be waiting a long time. Instead, communicate your needs and work together to find a happy medium.
Medications for happy sex life
Prescribed medications like selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs) or phosphodiesterase inhibitors such as Viagra (sildenafil)—especially when taken together—can be effective for PE. Studies have found that combining phosphodiesterase inhibitors and behavioral therapy is successful.
They also won’t cause you to develop an erection on their own. Instead, they just make it easier to get an erection when you’re already in the mood for sex.
There are five PDE5 inhibitors approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of ED:
- Viagra (sildenafil) tablets, approved 1998
- Cialis (tadalafil) tablets, approved 2003
- Levitra (vardenafil) tablets, approved 2003
- Staxyn (vardenafil) dissolvable tablets, approved 2010
- Stendra (avanafil) tablets, approved 2012
Not everybody needs to have sex in order to have a healthy and happy relationship — but some people do. What’s important is that you find a partner who understands your needs and desires, no matter what they are. Open communication is essential for every romantic and sexual relationship.
Sex can be a beneficial part of a healthy relationship. Research suggests that the average couple in the U.S. has sex about once each week. The frequency of sex tends to decline with age, and other factors including stress, children, and overall health can also affect a person’s desire for sex. Couples that want to increase their sex frequency should focus on communicating their needs and working together.