Does How Much Sex You Have With Your S.O. Actually Matter?

By Lisa Day and Dr. Amy Muise

If you’re in a long-term relationship, you probably remember the “honeymoon period”— those first few months when you couldn’t get enough of each other. But if you’re like most couples, your sex life isn't what it was in the honeymoon phase anymore. In fact, it’s likely that your sex drives aren't in sync at all.

Discrepancies between partners' levels of desire are common in relationships and can be difficult to resolve. So, in a new set of studies, we looked at how couples manage each other's different sexual interests in ways that are satisfying for both of them.

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In our first study, we asked half of our participants to write about what they would do before, during, and after sex in order to meet their partners' needs. Then, participants were asked how they would respond if they were feeling too exhausted for sex but their partner tried to initiate it anyway. In our second study, we asked people to tell us about the most recent time when only their partner was in the mood for sex. Then, in our final study, we recruited both partners to report on their desire and their motivation to engage in sex — each day for 21 days.

Across all three studies, we found that a person’s motivation to meet a partner’s sexual needs, termed sexual communal strength, plays an important role in the decision to have sex in these situations — and in the upkeep of both partners’ sexual and relationship satisfaction. People who were motivated to meet their partner’s sexual needs without the expectation of immediate reciprocation were less concerned with the potential "negatives" of having sex, such as feeling tired the next day. Instead, these "communal" people were more focused on the benefits to their partner — such as making him or her feel loved and desired.

In turn, these motivations led the "communal" people to be more likely to engage in sex with their partner, and to both partners feeling more satisfied with their sex life and relationship in general. This means that even though they had sex to meet their partner’s needs, communal participants reaped important benefits for themselves. In fact, they maintained feelings of satisfaction even in these desire-discrepant situations.

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Our findings suggest that if one partner is interested in having sex, but the other partner isn’t in the mood, simply being motivated to meet your partner’s sexual needs can benefit both of you. It's important, however, that this motivation comes from a place of agency, where you feel able to meet your partner’s needs and take delight in seeing that person happy.

Situations that involve coercion or ignoring one person's needs (termed unmitigated communion) do not lead to the same benefits. In fact, an important part of communal relationships is that both partners are attuned to and responsive to each other’s needs. At times, this may also mean understanding a partner’s need to not have sex.

In short, this research tells us that even though our sexual desires change over the course of a long-term relationship, being mutually responsive to each other’s sexual needs can help couples maintain satisfaction long after the honeymoon period ends.

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