Is Sex Important in a Relationship?

Reproduction is essential for the preservation of species, but humans tend to go beyond casual sex. Sexual intercourse is often associated with social and behavioral changes. Different hormones released during and after sex can modulate how we feel about our sexual partners. But how strong is this association? Can we have a healthy relationship without sex?

Intimate relationships change over the years, and sex behaviors tend to change as well. Does that mean that you lost the charm after a few years? Moreover, is there anything you can do to feel better and more connected with your partner?

In this article, we’re discussing this critical topic and giving you a list of potential problems that you may encounter along the way. After mentioning those problems, we’re also providing a few natural solutions you can try.

The connection between sex and relationships

Sexual activity is deeply written in our genes. It is part of what we are, and we’re biologically tied to this type of behavior. But besides sex, mating is also crucial for us. This aspect of human relationships is strengthened by sexual intercourse, and there is a specific area in the brain for that. It is called the limbic system or limbic brain.

The limbic brain is a very complex network of neurons and brain areas. It connects different structures and brings about emotion to our lives. Inside the limbic brain, we can highlight parts such as the amygdala and the hypothalamus. The former increases the activity in response to sexual arousal. The amygdala is larger in people with more sexual drive. In turn, the hypothalamus contributes by stimulating rewarding behaviors in sex.

Sexual hormones also play a significant role in reproduction, especially testosterone. We have receptors in the limbic brain that modulate sexual behavior and emotional states in response to sex hormones. Thus, reproductive hormones can be seen as neuromodulators and neurotransmitters (1).

Sex and emotions are deeply linked in biological terms. So, if you felt more connected with your partner after post-sex cuddling, there’s a reason for that. Oxytocin is being released, a neuropeptide that promotes social bonding and a feeling of trust and intimacy. You could say that, for many reasons, having sex with your partner contributes to the relationship. It doesn’t mean that sex is a requirement for relationships, but it will definitely help.

What does healthy relationship look like?

Sex and relationships are deeply linked to one another for the reasons above. However, sexual intercourse is not mandatory. It is estimated that 15-20% of the relationship depends on sexual activity (2). But there’s a remaining 80-85% left, which depends on romantic elements and daily living. Relationships change over time, and sexual activity changes, too. However, in most cases, you would expect to find active sexual behavior in a healthy couple, especially in a young person.

Sexual relationships in healthy couples are consensual and spontaneous. Nobody should influence how couples experience their own sexual activity, and it should be satisfactory for both partners. Erotism and pleasure are very important, and being yourself without restraints is essential for intimacy (2). 

Note that the frequency of sexual intercourse is not the most important. However, having sex less than 10 times a year should raise the alarm. It is probably a case of a sexless relationship.

Besides a healthy sexual life, authors describe romantic competence. It is another part of healthy relationships. Romantic competence includes three skills: insight, mutuality, and emotion regulation (3):

  • Insight helps partners stay aware of themselves and others. It means being able to evaluate goals, motivation, and needs in oneself and one’s partner.
  • Mutuality prevents an abusive relationship by keeping in mind the interests of both parties. It is the ground for supportive relationships and stimulates assertive communication.
  • Emotion regulation helps partners express their emotions in response to an experience. It is being able to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, keeping everything in perspective. Emotion regulation facilitates healthy interactions.

Health benefits of sex

Biology and evolution praise those who have sex with extra health benefits. In a sexually active man, this is the benefit you get after intercourse (4,5,6):

  • Sex reduces the sensation of anxiety, worry, and stress. By doing so, cortisol levels are reduced, and blood pressure improves. Studies suggest that sexually active men usually have a lower risk of heart problems.
  • More frequent sex often has a positive influence on overall mood. A more active sexual life may improve our mental health and prevent symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • The immune system gets an automatic boost after having sex. Natural killer cells increase in your blood to strengthen your innate immune system. This part of immunity is the first line of defense against a variety of microbes.
  • According to studies, there’s also a potential benefit in terms of prostate cancer risk. More sexually active individuals have a lower risk of this type of cancer. 

How to keep your sex life healthy in a relationship

The first step towards having a healthy sexual life is looking at yourself and embracing what you see. That includes your sexual orientation. Accepting yourself and your body is fundamental to living a healthy sexual life. Understanding your sexual potential and stopping thinking that sex is wrong is also an important step. You can always enjoy sex as long as you remain responsible and stay safe.

The second step is considering sexual dysfunction or another medical obstacle to enjoying your sexual life. Sexual problems may arise from ailments such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. They may also result from drug abuse and medication side effects. If your body is not responding as it should, talk to a urologist about it. The solution might be easier than you think.

Thirdly, healthy sexual life is always responsible and safe. If you don’t have an established partner, use a condom. If you have a committed relationship, reach an agreement to inform each other in case of risky sexual activity. Use a condom until both sides are retested against sexually transmitted infections. Communication and trust are essential for the success of this type of agreement.

When the moment comes, don’t be afraid to explore new things. Try different forms of sexual stimulation and communicate throughout the experience. Ensure that your partner is also satisfied without becoming anxious about your own performance. If nothing flows as it should, be flexible and try something else this time. Communicate with your partner and always express your feelings (2).

According to a recent study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, a genuinely satisfying relationship does not depend on sexual frequency. Cultivating a warm interpersonal climate associated with a satisfying sexual life is much more important (7).

How sexual difficulties can affect relationships

Couple relationships and sex have a two-sided relationship. Thus, in most cases, we need to address both problems to solve sexual difficulties.

Studies show that males with erectile dysfunction are more likely to have relationship stress. They experience more frequent conflicts, and they tend to spend less time with their family. Intimacy and communication are often affected.

Thus, the scale of relationship satisfaction is often lower when a man has sexual dysfunctions. Other studies also show that men with premature ejaculation usually report decreased relationship happiness. Women’s sexual dysfunction has a similar effect on relationship satisfaction (8).

How relationship issues can affect sex lives and sexual dysfunction

Various studies suggest relational problems as a cause of sexual dysfunction in men. In such cases, the solution might not be Viagra or another PDE5 inhibitor. The situation usually improves by evaluating and solving relational problems. Giving couples a safe space to talk about their relationship issues is a part of couple therapy that often has better results than drugs.

As noted above, sexual dysfunction and relationship satisfaction is deeply connected. They are both dependent on each other. Trying to solve sexual dysfunction in women should be accompanied by assessing relationship problems. Otherwise, even the best treatments are likely to fail. It doesn’t matter which comes first. When both issues are in place, we need to address them simultaneously (8).

Other factors that can affect sexual performance 

  • Stress and tiredness: Trying to have sex after a particularly tiresome day may not work. Cortisol and adrenaline in response to stress can kill an erection and cause transient erectile dysfunction. Evaluate your levels of stress if you find yourself having difficulties focusing in bed.
  • Sexual beliefs and stereotypes: As noted above, you can have a belief that premarital sex is evil and wrong. Thinking about this may become an obstacle to your sexual performance. There are many other beliefs and stereotypes. For example, women may feel that they shouldn’t have sex after their menopause. Men could believe that being warm and affectionate is not masculine behavior. These stereotypes are often damaging for couple relationship satisfaction.
  • Waiting for your partner: You may feel that every time you have to initiate sex. Then, you decide to wait for your partner and feel distressed and disappointed when nothing happens. This is a prevalent consequence of not communicating enough.
  • Decaying emotional connection: If you still have the same partner after a few years, you may encounter changes in emotional intimacy. Everyday life, daily problems, and stress can break down your relationship and affect your sexual intimacy.
  • Having children: When pregnancy is the goal, couples may feel the pressure of having a baby. They need to have sex at the right moment, and this may affect the spontaneity of sex. Once you have children with your partner, your marriage and life change. If you don’t pay attention, sharing bed with your children and the new daily living habits may affect sexual satisfaction.

How to naturally improve sexual performance

There’s a lot you can do if you’re worried about your sexual performance. Some natural solutions and supplements may help you solve the problem. You can also try a few methods and modifications.

Natural supplements to improve sexual function include:

  • Panax ginseng: This herb is a reputed aphrodisiac in Chinese medicine. Modern medicine has shown that it does enhance libido and improve sperm quality in males. It stands as a likely therapeutic strategy we can try before turning to drugs (9).

  • Ashwagandha: This plant is also thought to improve sexual health problems, especially if they are related to stress. It has a calming effect and works as an aphrodisiac at the same time. Ashwagandha increases testosterone levels and may improve fertility in males (10).

  • DHEA: Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in males. DHEA is a similar sex steroid hormone that may work to improve sexual function. It can be useful in both males and females. There are promising studies in women showing improvements in libido and wellbeing after menopause (11).

  • Yohimbe: In cases of organic erectile dysfunction, this supplement can be beneficial to solve sexual problems. A study published in Nature showed improvements in penile rigidity. Moreover, the researchers also performed a sexual history questionnaire. It includes items such as sexual interest, sexual desire, sexual behaviors, and satisfaction. Patients showed improvements in this questionnaire, too (12).

Conclusion

Good sex and sexuality, in general, are deeply related to romantic relationships. There’s an organic basis in the limbic brain, which activates specific areas during sexual intercourse. It also has hormone receptors that work as brain function modulators.

Naturally, all of this makes your sex life essential to maintain relationship satisfaction. It works in both ways: sexual satisfaction influences relationship satisfaction and vice versa. A sex therapist could help you understand what is happening and communicate your sexual feelings to your partner.

Certain supplements may also help to relieve this type of problem. We recommend supplements with scientific validity such as Panax ginseng, Ashwagandha, DHEA, and Yohimbe. Each one can be used in different instances, and treatment should be individualized.

Talk to your doctor if home measures are not enough, if you’re starting to experience relationship problems, and if you’re feeling particularly worried or anxious around your sex.

Sources

  1. Yang, L., Comninos, A. N., & Dhillo, W. S. (2018). Intrinsic links among sex, emotion, and reproduction. Cellular and molecular life sciences75(12), 2197-2210.
  2. McCarthy, B., & McCarthy, E. (2019). Enhancing couple sexuality: Creating an intimate and erotic bond. Routledge.
  3. Davila, J., Mattanah, J., Bhatia, V., Latack, J. A., Feinstein, B. A., Eaton, N. R., … & Zhou, J. (2017). Romantic competence, healthy relationship functioning, and wellbeing in emerging adults. Personal Relationships24(1), 162-184.
  4. Hall, S. A., Shackelton, R., Rosen, R. C., & Araujo, A. B. (2010). Sexual activity, erectile dysfunction, and incident cardiovascular events. The American journal of cardiology105(2), 192-197.
  5. Haake, P., Krueger, T. H., Goebel, M. U., Heberling, K. M., Hartmann, U., & Schedlowski, M. (2004). Effects of sexual arousal on lymphocyte subset circulation and cytokine production in man. Neuroimmunomodulation11(5), 293-298.
  6. Rider, J. R., Wilson, K. M., Sinnott, J. A., Kelly, R. S., Mucci, L. A., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2016). Ejaculation frequency and risk of prostate cancer: updated results with an additional decade of follow-up. European urology70(6), 974-982.
  7. Schoenfeld, E. A., Loving, T. J., Pope, M. T., Huston, T. L., & Štulhofer, A. (2017). Does sex really matter? Examining the connections between spouses’ nonsexual behaviors, sexual frequency, sexual satisfaction, and marital satisfaction. Archives of sexual behavior46(2), 489-501.
  8. McCabe, M. P., & Connaughton, C. (2017). Sexual dysfunction and relationship stress: how does this association vary for men and women?. Current opinion in psychology13, 81-84.
  9. Leung, K. W., & Wong, A. S. (2013). Ginseng and male reproductive function. Spermatogenesis3(3), e26391.
  10. Lopresti, A. L., Smith, S. J., Malvi, H., & Kodgule, R. (2019). An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine98(37).
  11. Panjari, M., & Davis, S. R. (2007). DHEA therapy for women: effect on sexual function and wellbeing. Human reproduction update13(3), 239-248.
  12. Guay, A. T., Spark, R. F., Jacobson, J., Murray, F. T., & Geisser, M. E. (2002). Yohimbine treatment of organic erectile dysfunction in a dose-escalation trial. International journal of impotence research14(1), 25-31.

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4 Comments

  1. Ken

    Dose BHP cause ED

    • Ben's Natural Health Team

      Hi Ken,

      Thanks for your comment.

      BPH itself does not cause ED. However, the conventional methods for treatment of BPH do have side effects that includes ED amongst others.

      Surgical diagnostics and treatments such as prostate biopsy and prostatectomy carry the risk of leaving the patient with ED post surgery. Pharmaceutical drugs that are prescribed to relieve urinary symptoms caused by BPH can result in ED too.

      If you’d like to get in touch we’d be happy to discuss safe alternative methods for diagnosis and treatment of BPH as well as recommend supplements for ED. Please call or email us to speak to a member of our support team.

      📧: [email protected]
      ☎️: 888 868 3554
      Wishing you good health,
      Ben’s Natural Health Team

  2. Destini Richlin

    It is a biological fact that feelings and sex are closely linked. Great and helpful article

    • Ben's Natural Health Team

      Hi Destini, thanks for your comment. We’re glad to found our article helpful.

      Wishing you good health, The Ben’s Natural Health Team

 
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