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Sex in Long-Term Relationships

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

The Keys to a Better Sex Life
How does sex bring partners closer together?

Sex triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone which fosters bonding and trust. Research suggests that higher oxytocin levels not only bring partners closer together, but that it also makes individuals less likely to cheat. Postcoital “pillow talk” also has been found to enhance a couple’s connection, as partners tend to say more positive things to each other and to disclose more about themselves after sex.

How can I please my partner without ignoring my own needs?

Studies of couples’ sex lives have found that both people who always place their sexual needs first (perhaps frequently turning down opportunities for sex because they’re not in the mood) and those who always put a partner’s sexual needs first (perhaps having sex even when they really don’t feel like it) tend to be less satisfied with their relationships, as do their partners. The happiest couples find ways to look out for their own wants while devoting sincere attention to their partner’s desires as well.

Maintaining a Sexual Relationship
Which couples have the best sex lives?

Influential relationship researchers John and Julie Gottman report that their studies of thousands of couples find that the couples who have the best sex lives, and are the most passionate, “say I love you every day and mean it. They kiss one another passionately for no reason at all. They give compliments. They give surprise romantic gifts. They have dates. They cuddle often. And they express affection in public.” In other words, the couples who are the most sexually satisfied are those that best stay “in touch” with each other in and out of bed.

How can couples have better sex?

Fundamentally, couples can achieve better sex in a relationship by talking about sex more openly and honestly. A large body of research finds that communication is perhaps the most important element of a fulfilling sex life for couples. Partners who report talking about sex with each other more—what they like, what they don’t like, what they would changes also report more orgasms, more positive feelings about sex, and greater relationship satisfaction.

Sex in Marriage
Can sex survive marriage?

It can and usually does, and research finds that the quality of a couple’s sexual connection early in their relationship goes a long way in determining their long-term sexual satisfaction. In such couples, even when sexual frequency and passion begin to decline, overall relationship satisfaction remains steady. When partners who have been together a long time find their individual levels of desire begin to diverge widely, though, it’s important that this concern be discussed and addressed.

How can committed couples maintain sexual desire?

A review of 64 large-scale studies of sex in long-term relationships found that among the factors most closely tied to maintaining sexual desire long-term are an understanding that partners may be more or less interested in sex at different times; feeling autonomy, or being able to see yourself and your partner as independent people with separate concerns; being open to growth and novelty in one’s sex life; and a belief in egalitarianism in relationships.

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