The relation between sex and the success of a marriage

9 minutes

It was a sultry Friday evening and I was on my way to my friend’s apartment, after work. She had seemed quite irritable through the one hour of a cab ride. As we entered the elevator, she attended to a short phone call from her husband and while disconnecting the call, she mumbled “no fun, no break, no sex…just work and responsibility all the time!” I was surprised because her husband was quite the good looking, smart and charming guy with a great sense of humor and she matched him on all fronts. I had imagined that they were the perfect happy couple with a great sex life and I had known them for 8 out of the 10 years of being married. Picking up on the unintended hints being dropped, the marriage wasn’t going very well.


Most married people would have encountered some version of this feeling at some point in time through their married life and may experience it for longer spells.

The success of a marriage hinges on many factors like trust, respect, forgiveness, compassion etc. However sex is a unique and undeniably significant aspect of marriage, as it is the one thing partners uniquely share with each other and with no one else.

It differentiates the relationship of a husband and wife, from that of mere roommates. A satisfying sexual relationship with the partner requires one to be vulnerable and sensitive.

Communicating things like where you’d like to be touched and what would give you pleasure while being sensitive to the partner’s needs, without being misunderstood requires one to develop a deep sense of trust.

When partners are able to achieve this, sex brings together elements of love, empathy, deep understanding, and intimacy, like nothing else can.

Researchers AdenaGalinsky and Linda J. Waite from the University of Chicago interviewed 732 couples between the ages of 57 and 85 about sexual frequency, psychological health and marital satisfaction and found that men and women who were sexually inactive or engaged in very little sexual activity reported lower levels of marital satisfaction, whereas couples who had more frequent sexual encounters (including any sexual act, not just intercourse) had happier, more positive marriages.

Let’s look at the impact lack of sex can have, on marriage.

Michele Wiener, an internationally renowned relationship expert & marriage therapist talks about the pitfalls of a sex-starved marriage.

In her words, “

A sex-starved marriage is one where one spouse is desperately longing for more touch, more closeness, and more physical affection while the other spouse is thinking “what’s the big deal! It is just sex!” But for the spouse yearning for more touch and more sex it is a huge deal because it is about feeling wanted, feeling loved, feeling connected, feeling masculine or feminine and feeling attractive. And when this major disconnect happens, intimacy at all levels goes right out of the door, partners stop sitting next to each other on the couch, they quit laughing at each other’s jokes, they don’t spend time together, they stop being friends and it places the marriage at risk of infidelity or divorce.

Sex is more than just a physical act. It is the opportunity to form a close connection; it is an opportunity to make the partner feel valued and loved. Sex is an act of love. In the initial stages of a marriage, the partner who craves for more touch and sex tends to be more vulnerable by expressing their attraction and the need for physical intimacy. However, when this expression is met with unresponsiveness repeatedly, the openness and vulnerability turn into anger and contempt, which spills over into all aspects of the relationship.

So what should one do when there is a difference in the sex drive of the two partners?

Sex therapists and marriage counsellors recommend the partner with the lower sex drive to adopt the Nike philosophy and just do it! This may sound a little extreme but it is being recommended for two reasons.

  • One, it makes the other partner feel, wanted, loved and connected, not to mention, grateful;
  • Secondly, it does something for the first partner too.

Research conducted by Dr. Rosemary Basson found that women don’t always feel desire before having sex; however their desire is often piqued once the sexual act is initiated.

This means that even when one is not feeling in the mood for sex, going ahead and having sex may often leave the partner feeling satisfied, happy and closer to their partner.

The other issue is that sexual desire waxes and wanes with passing years of marriage, not just for one but both partners!

What can be a possible solution?

Noted psychotherapist, Esther Perel, who works in the area of personal and professional relationships, argues that good and committed sex draws on two conflicting needs: our need for security and our need for novelty. So how do you sustain desire? On quizzing hundreds of couples across 20 countries about when they felt most drawn to their partners, these are the two resounding responses Perel received:

  1. When he/she is away, when we are apart, when we reunite
  2. When he/she is in his element or on the stage or he/she is doing something they are passionate about or when I see him/her at a party and other people are really drawn to her/him.

What this tells us is that we need to rediscover ourselves, so that the partner will see new aspects of us and feel a sense of desire and help us connect with ourselves.

Mystery and desire are not about new techniques in sex or donning sexier clothes (though these could help to some extent too). It is about being self-confident and being your own person, which keeps alive the desire and mystery rather than making partners feel like they are one.

Remember, neediness and desire fall on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Let’s look at some specific tips that could help to revive sexual desire among partners:

  1. Pursuing interests and passions of one’s own – While it’s great to be a dedicated father or mother or husband or wife, you are more than these roles. There’s just one of you in this world and it is your right and duty to explore and hone your talents and skills, whether it is writing, archaeology,poetry, music or climbing mountains. When you are engaged in things that you are passionate about, you radiate an aura that makes you attractive like nothing else can.
  2. Take care of yourself – Physically, mentally and spiritually. Being married doesn’t mean you have to be attached at the hip to your spouse. Have some daily ‘me’ time, pay attention to keeping fit and healthy. Accept and love yourself exactly the way you are, while still trying to get better each day.
  3. Clean up – Lack of communication, resentment and trust issues can wreak havoc on desire. Emotional clean-up is not about talking about issues when they blow out of proportion,it is about communicating every day. Be generous with compliments and take every opportunity to acknowledge your spouse for what he/she does well, even if it’s as mundane as opening the door with a smile.
  4. Practice mindfulness – Be fully present when you are with your partner. Your partner values your complete and positive attention over the roses and delicious meal. Pay attention to how they look, how they are feeling, what they are saying and initiate more eye contact and physical touch, even if it’s casual. Being present will help with reviving bonding – physical and emotional.
  5. Make time for intimacy and sex – Plan for intimate time sans kids and other distractions. Even 20 minutes every day with each other, is way better than nothing. Prepare and clean-up for the occasion. Looking and smelling good will definitely earn you brownie points.

Marriage, like any other relationship, requires an investment of time and effort and sex brings to a marital relationship the much-needed connection, pleasure, and bonding. You are never too old or married for too long, to enjoy sex with your partner. Once you have the intent to revive your dwindling sex life, half the battle is already won.

Make your marriage more exciting and fulfilling with sex and see it for what it is – a pathway to marital satisfaction, connection, and fun!

Divya Thampi

Divya is a special friend from YourDOST. team. She is an Emotional Intelligence Practitioner and has completed Executive General Management Program from IIM Bangalore. certified as a counselor and leadership Trainer. She is a student of Applied Behavioural Sciences and besides studying emotional intelligence as a subject, she has an intuitive understanding of emotions and their impact on behaviour. She uses counseling and coaching to help individuals empower themselves and work through challenging, stressful and sometimes numbing life situations.