Ask most married couples how they judge marital happiness, and odds are good that frequent sex is near the top of the list. Couples who have a lot of sex inevitably want more, or view their sex lives as a sign of a healthy relationship. And those whose sex lives are a bit lacking may believe that more sex will make them happy, or even that more sex is the inevitable product of more happiness. According to a new study, nothing could be further from the truth. For unhappy couples, the answer remains the same: marriage counselling, a commitment to change, and the willingness to step outside of their comfort zone.
Think Sex Equals Happiness? Think Again
Researchers divided heterosexual couples ranging in age from 35 to 65 into two different groups. The first group continued having sex at their usual rate, whatever that was—whether twice a day or twice a year. The other group was instructed to double the rate at which they had sex. So, for example, a couple who usually has sex about twice a week would be required to have sex four times a week for the duration of the study.
The couples completed a variety of surveys designed to assess their mental health and relationship satisfaction for the duration of the study. At the end of the study period, researchers found that the couples who increased their sexual frequency were not happier. Instead, they saw a slight dip in happiness.
The study’s authors suggest that simply engaging in more sex is not enough, particularly when couples don’t address underlying relationship issues that contribute to a dearth of sex. Instead, they suggest, couples may be less happy when they pressure themselves to have more sex because doing so reminds them of relationship problems and forces intimacy that’s not actually there.
Sex: One of Many Relationship Barometers
Research has consistently shown that relationship happiness doesn’t necessarily amount to more sex. Some couple have lower libidos; some are asexual. Sex is not universally enjoyable, and everyone has their own views on sex. Some people also bring baggage to a sexual relationship. A history of rape or trauma, for instance, can make sex distinctly unpleasant—even traumatic.
Couples should work toward a shared understanding of sex, not necessarily more sex. For instance, a couple in which both partners have a low libido may be much happier than a couple in which one partner has a high libido while the other has only moderate sexual desire.
Why Sex Can’t Save Your Relationship
Some couples mistakenly believe that, if only they have more sex, everything else will fall into place. Some even use sex as a shortcut for managing conflict. For instance, a couple might have sex after a fight, and the close feelings that result from sex may make them think the fight is resolved. Yet a few weeks or months later, when the same issue rears its ugly head, they’ll be back where they started—and may yet again turn to sex to manage a problem.
So why can’t sex solve your problems? There are a number of reasons:
- Sex produces powerful emotions, and can even change your physical sensations. These overwhelming feelings can make things feel okay even when they’re not.
- Forcing yourself to have sex when you don’t want to can damage your relationship, your self-esteem, and even your health.
- About 25% of women have a history of sexual trauma, so for these people, sex can actually make the relationship feel less close.
- Sex isn’t without risk. If your partner is dishonest or unfaithful, having sex could expose you to diseases or the risk of an unwanted pregnancy.
The Marriage Counselling Solution
Marriage counselling can improve the quality of your marriage and your sex life whether you’re just starting out, have been married for decades, struggle with serious problems, or just want to find better ways to cope. Your counsellor will help you gain a better understanding of the issues you face, serve as an unbiased mediator, offer helpful feedback about positive changes you can each make, and then encourage you to follow through with those changes. A good counsellor will also hold you accountable by questioning why you haven’t made certain changes, forcing you to see the way your behaviour impacts your partner, and working with you to explore how your own unhealthy habits may cause your relationship to deteriorate.
At Three Seas, we know that sex is deeply important for achieving a healthy relationship, and we never dismiss the value of healthy sexuality. We talk to you about your sexuality without judgment or agenda, and we can help you whether you’re gay, straight, questioning, monogamous, polyamorous, committed, dating around, or somewhere else on the spectrum of sexuality. We know there’s no single “right” way to have sex, and our goal is to help you find the healthiest, most comfortable, and most pleasurable.