How Important Is Sex In A Relationship, Really?

Any way you want it, that’s the way you need it.

by Anna Davies
How important is sex in a relationship?
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Ask 10 couples how important sex is in a relationship and you’ll get 10 different answers. Of course, there’s quantity and there’s quality. Mismatched desires, lack of orgasm, and other factors can all make your sex life seem eh — and can affect other aspects of your relationship dynamics, says Madeline Lucas, LCSW, therapist and clinical content manager at Real, a mental health care company. And these differences in libido can become even more pronounced if you and your partner don’t talk through them.

“It’s all about communication and compromise when it comes to different libidos and sex drives in a relationship,” Lucas says. And if sex is important to you and your partner, then it’s important in the relationship. And research underscores how sex can enhance intimacy and connection: According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the more sex you have, the more likely you are to feel intimacy toward your partner. But being satisfied with sex in your relationship starts with getting honest with both yourself and your partner about what you like and what you want.

How Important Is Sex In A Long-Term Relationship?

Sex in a long-term relationship is important: It allows you and your partner to experience intimacy, vulnerability, and connection together, says Tennesha Wood, a dating coach, matchmaker, and founder of The Broom List, a matchmaking firm dedicated to matching educated, marriage-minded Black professionals. But it can also be the first thing to fall by the wayside.

“In long-term relationships, it is inevitable and completely normal that sex will ebb and flow,” says Lucas. Stress, burnout, and busy schedules could all be culprits, she adds. Also common: Your sex life reaches a new normal that may be very different than the dynamics at the beginning of your relationship. Maybe when you first met, you couldn’t keep your hands off each other. Now that you’re living together, you may only have sex once or twice a week. Lucas and Wood agree this is normal, as you lose the excitement and novelty that comes from being with someone new. But what you’re building is intimacy and comfort, which can look like hanging out, cuddling on the couch, or being vulnerable with each other, Wood says.

Lucas adds that part of this intimacy means becoming comfortable with communicating your needs. You’re on the same team, and you may need to compromise to figure out a cadence that works for both of you. It’s also time to get honest about your turn-ons. At the beginning of a relationship, you may have held out on some of your desires, which you may now discover are non-negotiables. If your sex lives truly feel mismatched in a long-term relationship, a couples therapist can be extremely helpful in talking through what you both need and asking the hard questions,” Lucas explains.

How Important Is Sex In A New Relationship?

In a new relationship, you and your partner are flooded with a cocktail of hormones that make it pretty impossible to keep your hands to yourselves. During this time, it might be easy to gauge attraction, but it may be more challenging to assess how sexually compatible you are, says Wood.

That’s why knowing yourself sexually can be invaluable even before you find a partner. Wood often starts by asking clients how important sex is to them on a scale of one to 10. “I would never match a one with a seven,” says Wood. Why? “Sex is important and lack of sexual compatibility has been the demise of many relationships, even with otherwise compatible couples.” Basically, sex matters from the start.

A new relationship can also be a good time to be honest about what you want and need. What do you both like? What turns you on? It’s an opportunity to explore new things. It’s also normal for your sexual desire to downshift as you both get settled into a relationship, Wood notes. But, she suggests, if you’re sensing a mismatch, it can be a good idea to get granular about what you need: Is it more sex? More intimacy? More kink? If you know what you need, you can assess whether your partner is able to provide it. These questions can be helpful to address before you’re deeply settled into a long-term relationship.

How Important Is Sex In A Long-Distance Relationship?

Sex in a long-distance relationship can feel high stakes, sex educator Ann Hodder-Shipp previously told Bustle. You may feel enhanced desire for each other, which is great. But you also may feel a lot of pressure to have amazing sex — and could be frustrated if the reality doesn’t match expectations. But often, people in long-distance relationships think sex has to be in-person to “count,” notes Wood. And that’s not true. Incorporating long-distance sex experiences into your bond can help relieve some of the IRL pressure and can get you both on the same page when it comes to successful communication. So it’s helpful to get creative with what “sex” means. Sexting, sex over FaceTime, and BDSM play don’t require you to be in the same ZIP code. For some couples, ethical nonmonogamy, or having sex with other people, may be what works for them. But communicating, being honest with yourself and your partner, and exploring compromises can help ensure both of you are happy — no matter how often you get it on each week.


Madeline Lucas, LCSW, therapist and clinical content manager at Real, a mental health care company.

Tennesha Wood,a dating coach, matchmaker, and founder of The Broom List, a matchmaking firm dedicated to matching educated, marriage-minded Black professionals.

Ann Hodder-Shipp, sex educator and counselor

Study referenced:

van Lankveld, J., Jacobs, N., Thewissen, V., Dewitte, M., & Verboon, P. (2018). The associations of intimacy and sexuality in daily life: Temporal dynamics and gender effects within romantic relationships. Journal of social and personal relationships, 35(4), 557–576.