Let’s begin by defining what I mean by sex in the title. I am not only referring to penetrative sex I am also referring to sexual intimacy. Sex and intimacy are intertwined and sit on a continuum. Intimate actions can range from simple touch or hand-holding or cuddling to more focused and arousing touch and stroking. Sex can involve arousing touch and does not necessarily involve erections, lubrication, penetration (of any form), orgasms and ejaculations. Intimacy and sexual needs of partners normally vary – it is okay your “sex drives” do not match. Sex is not everything.
Sex is consistently rated as being important to a healthy and successful relationship if it is a source of discontent in the relationship. A lack of a happy and content sex life can be problematic for some relationships. Where couples do report a satisfying sex life, the importance of sex does not rate as highly.
Sex and Intimacy connects you as a couple. Sex and intimacy is about building and maintaining love and trust. When we engage in intimacy and sexual play with our partner/s we are asking them to trust us and we are trusting them.
We expose ourselves (literally and figuratively) when we engage in intimacy and sexual play. When we respond positively to our partner’s intimate acts towards us we are displaying acceptance of them and their desire to express connection with us. Our acceptance also extends to accepting them as a person and their body. Connection is also important to maintaining good psychological and physical health.
People in (healthy) relationships recover from major surgery and illness at a faster rate other people and connections build resilience and helps us build defences against stress. Intimacy and sex strengthens our bonds through the release of oxytocin – our “attachment” hormone; it is released during orgasm and strengthens our attachments and emotional bonds. We also release another chemical called “dopamine” which allows us to have good feelings towards others and helps us create healthy bonds. The combination of the two means a happy, healthy attachments.
It makes us happy. A healthy relationship has happy partners and happy partners are help form a healthy relationship. During sexual intimacy and play our bodies release serotonin – a hormone which regulates our moods and helps us feel happier. At orgasm we get an extra shot of serotonin and this is often why we feel “extra” happy after sex. Dopamine is another happy hormone we release during sexual intimacy and play. Dopamine also helps for feel pleasure and satisfaction.
Sex can help de-stress and relax us (as does masturbation). Let’s face it sexual intimacy and play can involve a bit of a work out at times. The release of muscle tension is also good and as already noted assisted by the release of our happy hormones. Oxytocin is especially responsible for its anti-stress capacities; its ability to help the body (and mind) to repair and restore, and increased feelings of calmness. On a more basic level, if nothing else the act of connecting with our partner means we are not thinking about the stress in our lives.
Sex helps build self-esteem. Sexual intimacy and play is an act of giving and receiving – it is an exchange between partners. When we give of ourselves and our partner/s accepts – this act re-enforces our acceptance and ability to meet our partner’s desires. The acceptance of our partner/s of our actions also re enforces acceptance of us.
Sex builds body acceptance. Like with self-esteem, sex also can help build body acceptance. Many people have issues with one or another aspect of their body. Through sexual intimacy and play we also expose our bodies. Our partner/s willingness to engage with our body is a great way for us to challenge our ideas about our bodies. Bodily exposure is another vulnerability of people and this, for some people, is great challenge. When our partner/s respond to our bodies, (self-) perceived flaws and all, it is one-way for us to know we are okay.
Sexual intimacy and sexual play provides us with time-out from the pressures of our life. It allows to express love and closeness through sharing with our partner/s. It also allows us to be vulnerable safely. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable also allows us to take off the masks and anxieties of the world and to be ourselves. With our partners we know we will be accepted no matter what.
Sexual intimacy and sexual play is important to a relationship. The level of importance varies between and amongst couples. I often find in my practice, where discord is present in a relationship the importance of sex increases. Yet the underlying issue is the sense of connection between the partner/s is lost. Sexual intimacy and sexual play has many benefits – connection is one of these.
So to build a healthy and happy relationship remember to include sexual intimacy and sexual play. Remember a Healthy life includes a healthy relationship. Healthy relationships benefit from a healthy and happy sex life.
Dr Christopher Fox is a Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist at Sex Life Therapy in Melbourne. He has clinics in East Melbourne and Frankston.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this document should be read as general in nature and is only to provide an overview of the subject matter covered. Please read product packaging carefully and follow all instructions.