Should Couples Treat Sex as a Reward?
Sex can be a good motivator, but it needs to be a happy offer.
Posted Sep 23, 2020
We all occasionally try to influence our romantic partner’s behavior with the promise of a reward. This is part of the standard give-and-take of relationships and mostly works out fine. It’s certainly better to start with the promise of a reward than the threat of a punishment. And, of course, being open to our partner’s promised rewards will probably encourage them to be more open to ours.
But should we use sex as a reward to coax a partner into doing something that they may not otherwise want to (within reason, of course)? Is this fair game? Does it run the risk of corrupting your sex life? As with so much else in relationships, the answer is: It depends. It’s all about how you do it and how your partner feels about it.
Is It Offered or Requested?
How you and your partner each feel about using sex as a reward may depend a lot on whether it is offered or requested: Does one of you independently offer some sort of sexual activity as a way to sweeten the pot to get the other partner to pitch in on some boring or annoying task? Or is the request made, and then the asked partner suggests sex as some sort of quid pro quo (i.e., you scratch my back and I’ll scratch a different itch)?
In general, I would certainly encourage you to ask for what you want and if sex is the thing that will tip the balance on your willingness to do what your partner is asking, then maybe that is a win/win. This is especially true if it’s a pretty easy sell for your partner to be up for some action. If everybody feels good about it, then this is an expeditious way to knock a few items off of your to-do list.
The risk in asking for sex or perhaps something else that feels like a similarly large gift for some partners to give is that you may get what you are asking for, but your partner may resent the high price. It’s like buying an overpriced beer at a concert: You’re happy to drink it, but feel kind of ripped off. So the question is whether your partner feels like they can really say no without risking your not helping with the task they want assistance on—and then also risking you being grumpy about not getting laid, thus adding insult to injury.
There is also the situation in which your partner is the one who suggests sex, but only because they want your help and will tolerate the sacrifice of the sex that they aren’t really that interested in. They feel caught between a rock and a hard place, so they bite the bullet. All of this comes down to the idea that, regardless of who actually speaks the words, in order for someone to feel OK about saying yes, they need to feel like they have a real option to say no.
Is It Freely Given?
The importance of a true offer is really important for something like sex, which works best as a collaborative process. After all, having a partner who is there in body but not in spirit is boring at best and creepily coercive at worst. If these somewhat forced encounters happen too often, they can make what should be a fun, connecting activity into a chore during which neither person has a good time. For sex to be a joy, both partners have to want to be there.
Your sex life occurs within the context of your overall relationship; for things to be good in bed, they need to also be at least pretty good everywhere else. Generosity of one kind can be rewarded with generosity of another kind; this may involve sex or otherwise. When it is freely given and both partners feel good about it, then it can make a good thing even better. This can be a good motivator for one or both partners to be good about some otherwise undesirable task.
It’s All About Fairness
Fairness is important in lots of ways in relationships. Happy couples generally feel that both partners are doing their part and that things are overall fair. There’s a give and take and both partners feel like the other is as invested in their happiness as they are in the partner’s. In unhappy couples, one or both partners feel they are getting a crummy deal—that they are giving more than they get. If this perceived imbalance goes on too long, it will creep into the bedroom. It’s hard to feel sexually generous if you feel like you’re being treated badly elsewhere.
So, if sweetening the pot with a bit of action ends with you and your partner feeling closer, then go for it. Adult life has more than enough boring and annoying responsibilities. If we have to do them anyway, we might as well have some fun along the way.
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