Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


What Happened To Courtship and Pillow Talk? The Loss of Romantic Sexuality

Recreating romantic sex by practicing four stages of intimate connection

Today's mass media sanctions and supports lust-driven sex oriented towards fantasy, arousal, and orgasm. My single daters constantly ask me on which date they should expect sex to happen, relying on their physical responses for successful sexual contact. Their goal is to make that single physical focus work first, and then worry about what kind of relationship may or may not evolve. Most know intuitively that adding love to the mix can only make it better in the long run, but they fear rejection if they try to commit too early.

The beauty of romantic intimacy can only happen when lovemaking includes all the ways in which partners experience each other. The multiple dimensions of spiritual connection, emotional bonding, intellectual fusion, and physical affection must all be present before the sexual experience is at its best.

Romantic sexuality asks its potential lovers to be in the process of continuous discovery of all the significant dimensions of a great relationship. If the magnetic intensity of physical attraction focus lovers into that single dimension too quickly, the others may be temporarily lost, or never realized. Couples who want to know sexual connection at its deepest level of fulfillment work together to make certain that they prolong each dimension until all are present.

Many people believe that women, more than men, need a period of extended romance prior to lovemaking. The truth is that romantic intimacy is as important to men as to women. Though men are more orgasm focused by nature, they do love a wonderful build-up as much as their partners do. Women may more often seek a longer courtship period, but do not always expect nor need their partners to prolong the pre-arousal experience.

It is not true that women prefer courtship and men would just as soon, literally and figuratively, get in and get out. Many women are well able to enjoy a purely lustful sexual connection at times, and many men are innately romantic and prefer a long, intimate buildup before they are sexual. There is a significant difference between lust-driven sex and romantic sex. When love enters the picture, sex changes, and the primary drive to orgasm becomes a four-stage process that ensures complete satisfaction for both genders.

The four stages of romantic sex begin with courtship, move through sexual arousal and orgasm, and end with pillow-talk. The courtship and pillow-talk stages are more timeless, and nurture deep affection, discovery, and emotional intimacy. The second and third are more pleasure oriented and driven by physical desires.

When lovers are able to integrate all four stages in sequence, they experience the middle stages of arousal and orgasm differently from participating in those same two stages during lust-only sex. Folded into the embrace of their lovers, they add love and emotion to their foreplay and release.

The Four Stages of Romantic Sex

Stage One - Courtship

Mating clues are influenced by time and culture. As if predestined, two people find each other in unpredictable ways. Within moments, they circle each other, searching for signs of mutual recognition. Wanting to be invited and fearful of rejection, each watches the other covertly, hoping that the relationship will happen. They show their interest by consciously and unconsciously signaling their desire, hoping it will be returned in kind.

The conflict between growing desire and carefulness to avoid rejection creates a wonderful tension. Feeling the uncertainty of outcome, they begin the ageless dance of flirtation. Approaching and avoiding, touching and pretending ignorance, coming in close and running away, the potential lovers feign disinterest while raptly attentive.

Committed couples replay these tender moments of new discovery as well. They know how to recreate courtship as if it had not happened before. Temporarily putting aside the intimacy of familiarity, they search for new ways to appreciate each nuance of each other that they may have overlooked in the past. They realize that they must be continually transforming internally to make those new discoveries authentic and to keep the mystery between them alive.

Independent of age or gender, the signs of new or reclaimed courtship are familiar to us all. We feel an intensely focused, joyous desire for connection, yet willing to play with the idea that we may not connect this time. People newly within each other's captive arousal are quickly memorizing every word, gesture, and desire. They search for any hint of invitation while anticipating the despair of unrequited love. The movement toward fusion of soul, mind, and body, has begun.

When courtship follows its course, both partners begin to feel more welcomed and confident in each other's realms. Initially obsessed with a mutual urgency to secure the treasure, the lovers now experience a calm timelessness. They no longer feel pressure to move the process quickly because it has become too sweet to rush. Filled with a delicious desire to prolong the tension, the lovers allow their bodies to store the excitement and anticipated ecstasy.

Stage Two - Sexual Arousal

The lovers have electrified one another's complete being, fully engulfed in the discovery of every dimension. They now begin to focus on specific sexual arousal. Emotional and loving affection becomes erotic, as erogenous zones call out to be touched. The new lovers have an almost unbearable urge to fuse as one.

They search to please one another, directing their foreplay to their partner's wishes while communicating their own. Every dimension of their being vibrates with desire. The time they have given during their courtship phase has allowed their hunger to mature.

The sexual expression of that deep connection makes the experience exquisite. They want it to last. Locked in an embrace and allowing their natural physical desires to grow, they strive to put aside their limitations and search for ways to increase each other's pleasure.

Separately and together, they begin to build the energy that unites them emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically, in the simultaneous desire for release.

Stage Three - Orgasm

As the lovers move towards their individual orgasms, they become less aware of each other's presence and more exquisitely tuned to their own desire for release. If the lovers are skilled, experienced, and responsive to each other, they may be able to share simultaneous orgasms.

They can also find deep satisfaction in taking care of each other in sequence, sharing the pleasures of alternately giving and taking. As long as they feel confident that their partners are close and similarly entranced, their mutual enjoyment is reborn in these moments of total vulnerability.

Stage Four - Pillow Talk

The experience that follows orgasmic release is an intertwined state of wonderment, satiation, and openness. The partners are beautiful to each other. Like children in a state of bliss, they are able to share their most vulnerable fantasies and their deepest fears. Not wanting to feel the inevitable separateness of quieted arousal, they reach to one another in a different way, searching for new understanding and deeper connection.

The deeply connected lovers often treasure these relaxed moments together in many ways that are meaningful to both. Some take long, sweet showers and serve each other delicious foods. Others wrap themselves in warm blankets and listen to their favorite music or watch a beloved movie. Not wanting to let go of their intimate connection, the lovers continue to savor experiences that shut out the rest of the world and its pressures.

Still in the afterglow of their sensual connection, lovers may begin to flirt again, deliberately pretending they are farther apart than they are, and begin to build desire again. Timeless connection can lead to a new cycle of romantic lovemaking, as well as promises for encores.

The four stages are not necessarily as long or passionate each time. Every couple has its own needs at a particular time. Sometimes the goals of courtship happen very quickly and at other times take more time. Foreplay and arousal can last for a few minutes or for several hours. The depth of arousal can create a drive for multiple orgasmic experiences or one profound release. Some couples share vulnerable and intimate thoughts for hours after the sexual part of their connection is complete.

There will be times when one or both partners want to alter the cycle by abbreviating or eliminating some of the stages. Sometimes one partner may not be interested in his or her own release but is happily willing to service the other. Or, when time is short, both agree to only do stages two and three because they just want to have a lust experience separate from their emotional connection. Those choices are normally not a problem, as long as the couple completes the entire romantic cycle often enough to regenerate their love.

Why Romantic Sex so Often Diminishes in Committed Relationships

Unfortunately, as relationships mature, life's stresses affect even the most intimate of partners. Couples may not set aside time for lovemaking as often as they would like, but can do better when they schedule uninterrupted time together.

Too often, partners truncate the romantic sexual cycle to the two stages of arousal and orgasm. If that shortened connection becomes the norm, the lovers will find it hard to return to the longer, more romantic process. Without the timeless build-up and moments of safe vulnerability, the lovemaking experience becomes only goal-oriented, lust-driven, and dependent on sexual expertise and physical stimulation. The mystery of courtship and the sweetness of the afterglow intimacy are lost in the compromise.

Most couples accept that their lust and sexual frequency will diminish as their relationship matures. They hope that the dimensions of care, familiarity, security, and comfort will grow and compensate for the loss. Many couples, short of time and energy, choose to engage in quick arousal and mutual satisfaction. They may not realize the importance of maintaining some full cycles of romantic sex, no matter how long they have been together. They risk the danger of losing the depth of true lovemaking if they do not return to their initial commitment from time to time.

When I ask them whether they remember those four wondrous stages and how important they once were, they rarely disagree. They can still recall those sweet times, yet they forget to make the practice a priority. Even as we begin talking about what once was, they soften.

"Honey, I think we may be working too hard for the goals we've set and forget what's really important."

"Maybe I assumed I already know everything about you, so I've stopped searching for more of you. Remember how I used to wash your back in the shower afterward? We'd chase each other around the house in our towels, trying to pull them away and usually ending up laughing on the bed. It's a little harder to do that with our two-year-old running after us."

"I think we're just too tired to put in the effort. It didn't seem like effort before. What's happened to us?"

"You know, we do get it going pretty well on vacation, but nowadays we just don't seem to make the time to get away alone very much. I do still wonder what you're thinking, but, but I don't find the time or place to ask you. I do care. I don't understand why I haven't made it more important."

"We're good at turning each other on physically, and you always satisfy me so easily. I think we're kind of spoiled. It's just easier to do our ritual. I can see that we're settling for less now. I miss you, honey, in so many ways."

What Makes Partners Give up Their Romantic Sex Cycle?

Why would committed partners give up something so important, especially when they are closer and more deeply intimate now than when they were new lovers? Why were they once so willing to invest their time and energy, yet are no longer as motivated to make wonderful sex happen?

The answer lies in the nature of romance itself. When it is functioning at its best, romance is interplay of sensual, spiritual, intellectual, emotional fantasy and desire. Lovers long for the unconditional acceptance and adoration that most people only had as children. They call each other by baby names, and fondle one another in tender, petting ways. They exaggerate positive qualities and ignore the negatives. Both bathe each other in sweetness, devotion, and magnetic attraction. They cannot get enough of the magic they create together, and will do anything to maintain that connection. The combination of ideal parent/child fusion with unbridled lust is fiery.

Romantic sex, immersed in this exquisite, intimate connection, is a process of continuous discovery. When flirtations evolve into love, the partners, filled with curiosity, want to completely know the other. Every interaction is permeated by new tastes, new smells, new experiences, new secrets, and new surprises. Emerging revelations continually reawaken the partners.

Their own love of self is also renewed in that rearrangement of fascination and satisfaction. They revel in the wondrous experience of positive reflection in their lover's eyes. Life becomes a series of enchanting experiences.

At the same time, new lovers also feel more anxiety and more fear of loss. But an exquisite aliveness comes with that insecurity. Never knowing what possibilities still lie undiscovered, the lovers pursue each new exploration with passionate involvement, entering landscapes in which they must tread lightly and heroically.

As people spend more time together, they too often believe that they have learned everything they need to know about each other. Perhaps the security and predictability lulls them into interdependency. They spend more of their resources maintaining memories and predicting outcomes than in searching for new ways to be together.

When partners replace discovery with security, they devote their resources to practicality and efficiency, instead of the challenges they once sought so eagerly. The adoration and timelessness that marked their romantic sex cycle becomes we-know-and-love-each-other-already-so-we-really-don't-have-to-make-any-unnecessary-waves habitual sexual ritual. They just have too much to do before and after their sexual connections, so they get them over with as efficiently as possible. Were they to start searching for new discoveries in each other again, they would have to steal time away from other obligations.

Getting Back on Track

Each couple must decide how important romantic lovemaking is to their relationship, and whether they are willing to take the time to regenerate it.

Answer the following questions to see where you and your partner stand in your current relationship. Give yourself a score from one to five on each question below. Assign your scores using this guide.

1 = Not much any more
2= Once in a while
3 = Sometimes
4 = Most of the time
5= Always


Do you feel desirable when you and your partner begin lovemaking?
Do you spend some flirtatious time together before you begin your arousal stage?
Can you tease each other playfully before and after your sexual connection?
Do you feel fulfilled when sex is over?
Do you feel heart-joined during your sexual experience?
Do you stay together after sex and talk about special things?
Are you still discovering new things about each other?
Does your partner intrigue you?
Are you sad when your sexual interaction is over, wishing it could have lasted longer?
When you think about your partner sexually, do you look forward to your next encounter?
Do you feel secure in your partner's love and interest during your sexual experience?
Do you like experiences all four stages of romantic love more frequently?

Now take the test again, and answer it as you would have when you were first together sexually.

Compare the scores. Don't be distressed if they differ markedly. They probably would be lessened in any long-term relationship. The test is only a baseline for you to decide together whether and how you want to change how you currently make love.

There are many legitimate reasons why couples allow their romantic sexual cycles to diminish. Major illnesses, children, work obligations, unexpected trauma, financial stressors, and family obligations are only a few. Still, the most common reason is that committed partners simply forget how important romance is to the regeneration of love.

Some couples, fulfilled in other ways, can be very happy with occasional romantic sexual connections, or decide that sex is less important in their lives. Others feel their relationship is in trouble if these special moments of intimacy diminish, and fight to reinstate them. Sadly, unequal sexual appetites or different romantic desires can create sorrow and disappointment that can result in the further destruction of intimacy.

If you miss your romantic lovemaking and your test scores tell you that it's time to re-evaluate, please know that you can change your behaviors and take back the joy you once knew. I've seen many couples re-establish the four stages of romantic sexual intimacy and enthusiastically report wonderful, regenerated love. They wonder how they forgot how sweet it was, and promise each other they will not live without it again.