The lack of sex in your relationship may be the biggest indicator that you’re well past the honeymoon phase. Or maybe it’s that sex has started to feel boring, uninspiring, or like a chore. You used to have a healthy sex life with a never-ending appetite for more time in the bedroom. What happened?
Almost all couples will experience an ebb and flow to their sex lives. Life events like moving, having a baby, changing jobs, or losing someone close to you play a role in your sex drive. So too do self-esteem and changes in your relationship with your partner.
What’s going on with your sex life may have lots of contributing factors, but the only way to improve it is to work on your relationship—ensuring that you and your partner have a good connection outside the bedroom.
Because ultimately, couples with a healthy relationship have better sex.
A Healthy Sex Life According to the Media
Most often, the media focuses heavily on the physical side of sex. Movies and TV series build up the sexual tension until the final physical connection between the characters. How-to blogs promote tips, tricks, and techniques for better orgasms and promote all manner of toys to help get the job done.
Healthy sex lives must mean a certain number of sexual encounters a week, a certain level of adventurousness in bed, and a certain number of sexual partners. Right?
What is a Healthy Sex Life Really?
This is a question researcher and psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson explores in her book Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (2008). She connects the physical act of sex between romantic partners to emotional connection.
In short, emotional connection is one of those deep, important needs that you and every person has throughout your lifetime. Even the thought of losing emotional connection can throw you into a panic. In contrast, having a strong emotional connection with your partner provides a sense of safety and confidence that benefits not just your sex life, but all other areas of your life as well.
It’s a positive-feedback cycle: closeness and intimacy leads to good sex, sex with a partner you feel close to brings you even closer.
Sex Creates Closeness
Again, there’s a natural rhythm to relationships. You probably started out passionately, having great sex all the time. Later, life’s stressors diminished one or both of your sex drives. Work, exhaustion, physical illness, they can all affect your sex life. And a changed sex life can bring up deep insecurities.
That said, when you and your partner do have sex, it brings the two of you closer. It’s a time when the two of you are truly in the moment with one another.
Sex is also inherently vulnerable, a time when you’re trusting one another and literally baring it all.
This type of open intimacy brings you closer together.
A healthy sex life can help you maintain connection and the health of your relationship.
Sex Issues: The First Sign of Relationship Problems
As Dr. Johnson mentions, sex issues are not usually the cause of your relationship problems, but they tend to be the first sign that there’s trouble.
She cites a study that found happy couples only credit 15 to 20 percent of their happiness to a healthy sex life (Johnson, 2008). That seems to mean sex is not the only factor, or even the biggest one, to feeling happy in your relationship, or to having trouble connecting.
However, when you’re arguing constantly, or not feeling like you can share your true feelings—it’s hard to be intimate. It’s not easy to switch from defending yourself from criticism during the day to being intimate at night. Sex becomes less pleasurable and less desirable. So it’s not surprising it’s the first thing to go.
When the Vulnerability of Sex Feels Safe
When you and your partner feel confident in your relationship, you feel safe to be playful. You each trust that the other will respond to you, desire you, and make room for your needs.
If you are securely connected, this playful and confident atmosphere in the bedroom is one that most couples are excited to explore.
When Sex Doesn’t Feel Emotionally Safe
If you feel shut off from your partner, forgotten, or simply unsure if he still desires you, you won’t feel safe to open up completely in sex.
And if you’re not sure your partner will listen when you tell them what you need, you won’t feel safe to speak up in the bedroom.
The quality of your relationship has to make you feel confident and secure enough to let yourself experience the intimacy of sex.
Different Types of Sex:
In her book, Dr. Johnson describes three different types of sex (Johnson, 2008):
Impersonal sex is a type of sex that’s separate from love. It’s almost purely physical and used to reduce sexual tension and need but can cause the other partner to feel objectified.
Often, it’s used by men to maintain emotional disconnection but still meet their sexual needs—sometimes with numerous partners. It can also become the norm within a relationship if one partner feels closed off from the other.
There is excitement with this type of sex, but it’s short lived. Additionally, impersonal sex does nothing to foster growth, connection, or self-esteem.
Sex Fueled by Anxiety to Connect
Anxious sex fulfills the need for physical touch and cuddling as a proof that your partner wants you and still cares for you. If we think back to the ways a sex can be a healthy part of emotional connection between lovers, it makes sense that sex would be part of how you reassure yourselves that you’re still close. But with anxious sex, it can become demanding or even obsessive as you need constant proof that your partner cares for you.
Ultimately, this type of sex is used to gain a partner’s reassurance and avoid rejection.
If you’re looking for a healthy sex life, this is where it’s at. Partners’ motivation in this type of sex is to connect physically and emotionally. You feel safe to be vulnerable with each other and enjoy the sex for all the reasons—physical excitement, pleasure, reassurance, and emotional connection and openness.
Anxiety is the Enemy to a Healthy Sex Life
In the end, anxiety is the enemy to sexual intimacy, and your relationship outside of bedroom affects the quality of your sex life.
It’s hard to be open and responsive to your partner sexually if you are constantly protecting yourself or afraid you aren’t good enough.
On the other hand, when you’re able to seek emotional support and reassurance from your partner, your connection grows and so does your sexual intimacy.
Couples Therapy Can Help You Create a Healthy Sex Life
When couples improve their relationship, their sex satisfaction improves. When you feel connected, secure, and safe, your desire for your partner increases and so does your excitement for exploration in the bedroom. (Johnson & Zuccarini, 2010)
Couples therapy can help you create the emotional connection that’s necessary for a more freeing and satisfying sex life. In therapy you’ll be able to talk about sensitive issues and insecurities and find reassurance from your partner.
Solid emotional connection can be built from instilling a few key ideas and behaviors in your relationship. Dr. Johnson sums them up in the words “Accessible,” “Responsive,” and “Engaged” (Johnson, 2008).
In therapy, couples learn how to be:
- Accessible: When you need your partner, you can reach him and vice versa. And that doesn’t just mean physical presence.
- Responsive: When you communicate a need, he shows you that he heard you and makes some effort to help or comfort you.
- Engaged: This is more than just presence. Engagement means you consistently respond to your partner, you reach out too, and you build the connection within your relationship together.
Therapy can be a useful tool for couples who are struggling to build a healthy sex life, particularly Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). According to researchers, “70–73% of distressed couples are no longer distressed at the end of therapy and 86% report significant improvement in their relationship” after participating in EFT (Johnson & Zuccarini, 2010).
A healthy sex life is attainable, and it may involve improving all areas of your relationship, couples counseling might help you get there.
About Dr. Irena
Dr. Irena has over 20 years of experience helping couples find connection through the research-proven method Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). She offers online therapy for women and couples in Houston, The Woodlands, and New York City.
If you would like to schedule a session, email Dr. Irena for a free 10-minute video consultation: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (281)-267-1742.
Johnson, S. (2008). Hold Me Tight. Little, Brown Spark.
Johnson, S., & Zuccarini, D. (2010). Integrating sex and attachment in emotionally focused couple therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 36(4), 431-445.