Richard Nicastro, PhD takes a deeper look at married (or long-term relationship) sex and some of the unique reasons it can be so satisfying. He encourages couples to understand their ruts and look for opportunities for change.
You might have read about—or personally experienced—the challenges some married couples (or couples in long-term relationships) face when it comes to keeping sexual desire and sexual passion alive. The newness of a relationship clearly brings with it certain perks, one being the euphoria and excitement that seems to envelop every aspect of our life (including our sexuality). It’s not uncommon for married couples to look back fondly on the days when more frequent love-making, greater sexual exploration and risk-taking, and heightened sexual intensity were a part of the relationship landscape.
The struggle of married couples—as well as couples in long-term relationships—to keep sex a rewarding part of their union is the reason I created How to Spice Up Your Marriage.
But this is only part of the picture for married couples. Clearly, not all couples who have been together for years (or even decades) complain about a sexless marriage or have to settle for mediocre sex. In fact, a percentage of married couples report that sex within their long-term union has benefits they couldn’t have imagined. Even if the frequency of sex has diminished, these couples report high levels of sexual satisfaction, and a deep and meaningful intimacy that arises from sex.
Let’s turn our attention to five benefits of married sex (as well as sex in a long-term relationship).
Sex As an Expression of Love
“Every time I have sex with my wife, it is an act of deep, profound love.”
~Ken, married almost twenty years
It’s usually assumed that couples who are married love each other, unless, of course, their love has faded and they’re heading for divorce or staying in a loveless marriage for the sake of their children. But for the many married couples who do love each other, they have the wonderful opportunity to express and share their love through sexual expression. The entwining of sex and love takes sex to new heights for many couples—in these instances, the act of sex itself becomes a powerful way to transform the subjective feelings of love into tangible acts of loving expression and appreciation.
The Benefits of a Shared History
“Married sex is like dancing with a partner you are totally familiar with; it makes for a great dance because you know his particular rhythms and moves.”
~Holly, married fourteen years
A deep connection arises out of a shared history where trust is established. It is through a couple’s shared history that a deeper knowing and understanding of the other occurs—a knowing that results not just from time spent together, but from ongoing, meaningful communication. For intimacy to be nurtured, the evolution of this communication must include discussions about one another’s most important desires and longings; sexual and emotional likes and dislikes; as well as an understanding of each other’s hopes, dreams and vulnerabilities.
When this knowing occurs in the bedroom, a sexual empathy is set in motion that becomes part of the foundation for a couple’s sexual exploration. Great sex arises from sexual empathy: a mutual appreciation of what each partner/spouse needs sexually, as well as emotionally.
A Sexual Foundation Built upon Emotional Security
“The longer we’ve been married, the more secure I feel in our relationship. That security allows me to take risks sexually with my wife. I always felt sexually anxious the times I had sex and didn’t know the person really well.”
~Michael, married seven years
When you love someone, they have a great deal of power and influence over you (there’s no denying this fact). Feelings of insecurity and anxiety arise when we start to feel we no longer matter to our partner, that our needs and concerns are falling on indifferent ears. But when we feel emotionally secure and safe, a whole new world of possibilities is opened to us.
Sexually, this might take the form of taking greater risks sexually (like it did for Michael in the above quote)–a giving of the parts of you no one else gets to see (your emotional vulnerabilities, as well as a sharing of your sexual longings and fears). This emotional security gives you greater emotional and sexual freedom; a freedom to let your guard down and be swept away in the mutual pleasures and connecting moments of sexual intimacy.
When Sexual Passion and Love Converge
“I’ve had passion without love and love without passion. Now I have both, and it’s indescribable.”
~Raquel, married eleven years
One of the common sexual complaints of couples in long-term relationships is diminished passion—what was once spontaneously ignited now requires effort and planning. Many of these couples might still have a rewarding sex life (“We enjoy sex whenever we have it…if we have it…”), even if their sexual dance has become somewhat predictable. But for some married couples, passion and love have blended, making for mind-blowing sex.
These couples aren’t afraid to be sexually adventurous. They trust each other enough to try new things and give fully of themselves. They communicate effectively about their sexual needs and use their deep knowledge of each other to generously give and openly receive sexual and sensual pleasure. And, most importantly, these couples create a shared space (unencumbered by the stresses and obligations of daily life) where sexual passion is allowed to take root.
Playing Between the Familiar and the Unknown
“I got so turned on when my wife did something totally unexpected the other day…she became a little unrecognizable to me in that moment, and I have to admit, it was hot…”
~Daniel, married four years
Part of the emotional security married couples take comfort in arises out of the familiar and predictable routines that come to define their couplehood. Psychologist Esther Perel, in her brilliant book Mating in Captivity describes how a certain level of emotional closeness (the hallmark of a loving marriage) also has the potential to extinguish sexual desire. It’s when a level of psychological separateness occurs that the other person can be seen and experienced; and it is in this contact with a separate other that the fires of sexual passion are able to ignite.
Why does this make married sex so amazing? It’s a very different experience having someone you know well (your spouse/partner) let go sexually and/or act in a surprising or provocative manner, compared to someone you’ve just met or don’t know so well. Married couples are in an enviable position in this regard since they can bounce back and forth between the familiar/secure and the novel/tantalizing. In the psychic space between these seemingly contradictory experiences, a tension exists, a tension that can fan the flames of sexual desire and allows for passion’s potential.
While the above list is by no means exhaustive, it does point to some important benefits that married couples can enjoy when it comes to sex. The loss of sexual intimacy and passion in long-term relationships is not an inevitable outcome of domesticity. In fact, couples who have been together for a long time have unique opportunities to build upon their emotional foundations of love and security, whether this involves nurturing love and emotional intimacy through sex, or pushing against each other’s sexual boundaries in order to stimulate moments of sexual excitement.
The challenge is for married couples to identify any routines that may have led to relationship and sexual ruts, the routines they may too heavily rely on out of habit or complacency. Once those routines are identified, you can create and nurture opportunities that make your sex life a rich and meaningful part of your marriage or long-term relationship.