Is sex really that important in a long-term relationship?

Jenna Birch
Contributing Writer
Yahoo Lifestyle
Illustrated by Thoka Maer for Yahoo Lifestyle
Illustrated by Thoka Maer for Yahoo Lifestyle

Sex. We think about it, we do it, but we don’t talk about it nearly enough — especially not with our partners. To be fair, sex is a tough one to discuss, because, well, it’s taboo. It’s also a vulnerable topic, and makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable or nervous or even ashamed. But the reality is, sex is important — and it is part of what makes a healthy relationship work.

When it comes to questions about sex between you and your partner, there are certain components of sexual compatibility and chemistry that are vital to suss out. So, if you’re dating or in a long-term relationship, it’s wise to watch out for these.

There needs to be a bond outside the bedroom.

You have to want to spend nonphysical time with the person you’re seeing. You need to have something to bond over that’s not the other’s body. Maybe you have the same sense of humor, similar goals in life, the same hobbies, or a general willingness to try new things together (novelty is the spice of life and relationships).

Even if you have an amazing physical connection or chemistry, life is not all about the bedroom. When it comes to relationship sustainability, you have to get to know (and truly like!) the person you’re seeing when they are behaving in their other natural (nonsexy) state. All of these outside connectors? Do you find them … hot? They should excite you, not bore you. Kind of like extended foreplay.

You need to be able to communicate. 

There’s nothing more important to physical intimacy than communication — if you can’t talk about sex, it’s really hard to have good sex. If you can’t find a way to bring up what you like (and don’t like), then you’re always going to be left unsatisfied. You also must know how to frame these messages for your partner.

Similarly, you have to be able to communicate about issues that are unrelated to the bedroom. This boils down to communication style. Are you getting your message across? Do you feel heard and seen when you tell your partner your needs and your feelings? If there’s a problem, do you have a way to reach resolution together? If you can’t communicate through issues, it’ll stunt your physical intimacy; you simply won’t want to have sex if you’re fighting or feel minimized.

You should have similar sex drives. 

Most of great, relationship-improving sex is about having similar sex drives. It’s possible to overcome a dynamic where you’re cool with sex just once a week or once every other week while your partner would like it once a day. But, over time, it’s going to be important to reach a compromise.

When you’re dating, it’s important to feel out just how much you both like and need physical intimacy. That’s something I’ve watched a lot of couples overlook through the years. It’s one thing if the gap is small, but it’s a wholly different beast if one partner is a very physical person and the other just isn’t — especially if you are the partner who feels somewhat sexually rejected. That’s likely going to be a problem that only gets bigger with time.

If you’re the partner who has a lower libido, and if it has dipped even lower recently, you can check with your doctor; sometimes medications or underlying conditions can alter your sex drive.

You need to prioritize each other.

I like to think of relationships as comprising three elements of attraction: intellectual, emotional, and physical. Lots of sex issues can be overcome by this last foundational principle, which is a simple willingness to prioritize each other and your physical relationship so that everyone’s needs are met.

Illustrated by Thoka Maer for Yahoo Lifestyle
Illustrated by Thoka Maer for Yahoo Lifestyle

For instance, lots of couples want sex to be exciting and spontaneous. That would be ideal, but day-to-day life is crazy. If needs aren’t being met, those needs should be addressed through planned date nights or a shared calendar to sync your schedules for physical intimacy. (Yes, relationship experts and therapists still suggest scheduling sex, because it’s a lot more romantic if you’re actually having it!) Similarly, you need to prioritize your partner’s needs, kinks, quirks, and suggestions. If that’s not an option, because you’re simply not into something or you want totally different things, you might just be sexually incompatible — and most likely incompatible as a couple too.

It’s important to enter the bedroom with an open mind. As long as everything is approached with respect and vulnerability, the goal should always be finding a way to mutually satisfy each other. That might not happen all the time. It might not happen right away. But the attitude should always be one of enthusiasm, improvement, care, support, and making a relationship — whether it be budding, or long term — even stronger.

Jenna Birch is the author of  The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love (Grand Central Life & Style). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to jen.birch@sbcglobal.net with “Yahoo question” in the subject line.

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