HOW A RELATIONSHIP GETS IMPACTED BY SEX?

I bet this title caught your attention. Why is that?

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On a biological level, sex is an innate human function, similar to eating. Our body craves, which results in us seeking out the object of our desire, whether it be a bag of Doritos, or another human being. However, sex is So. Much. More.

​Sure, eating can be a sensual experience that satisfies and stimulates us, but sex has all the feels: intimacy, human connection, a sense of belonging, just to name a few. Feelings aside, chemical reactions occur in our brain, giving us a pleasure rush (dopamine), making us feel relaxed and good overall (serotonin), and emotionally bonds us (oxytocin).

​Now, stepping back to place more perspective on the deed, let’s explore the impact of sex on a grander scale; what impact does sex have on our relationship?

Sex can strengthen a relationship in many different ways. First of all, sex is vulnerable. Not only does it expose our flawed physical body to another person, which can be a source of body-image insecurity, but we are also exposing emotional vulnerability by allowing ourselves to share our very raw, real and private wants, needs, and desires. Trusting all this vulnerability with another person can create a deeper sense of connection and intimacy.

Further, a healthy sex life can support healthy communication. Sex can be a difficult topic to discuss, even within long-term relationships. In order to continue allowing sex to bond us, we have to keep talking, especially about the hard stuff. Do you feel safe to ask for what you want? To discuss any changes in libido? To share about changes within your body? If we are able to have vulnerable conversations about sex with our partner, perhaps we can trust our partner with vulnerable conversations outside of sex.

Sex can be a self-esteem booster. Being the object of another’s desire not only makes us feel desirable, but also wanted and accepted. Think about it: of all the people out there in the world, this person standing in front of you wants you. It’s good for the ego, and can have a positive impact on our sense of self-worth.

On the other hand, sex can impact our relationship in a less positive way. It can be a source of conflict within an otherwise healthy relationship. If a couple is not on the same page about the frequency of sex, or what type of sexual play is brought to the bedroom, disconnect can emerge. This can leave one partner feeling rejected, inadequate, undesirable, resentful, and unloved, while the other partner could be feeling misunderstood, criticized, and ashamed.

Sex can be used as a bandage, inhibiting emotional intimacy. Both partners may be on the same page about sex – the sex is spectacular! However, at times, sex is initiated as a way to end conflict within the relationship and make up. This doesn’t seem so bad upon immediate reflection, but when we think about this more deeply, what it may actually be doing is silencing necessary and vulnerable conversations. Therefore, conflicts do not get resolved, long-standing issues can worsen, resentment can build, and partners may begin emotionally distancing themselves from each other.

Unfortunately, sex can also be used to inflict abuse into a relationship. For instance, sex can be used as a weapon, in order to gain power and control over one’s partner and the relationship. This can be seen through the manipulation tactic of bribery: I’ll give you this, if you give me that.  Another example of this would be withholding sex, in order for the withholding partner to get what they want from the desiring partner: I won’t give you this, until you give me that. Further, sex can also be used as a form of assault, and unconsented sexual activity is NEVER okay, even if it is within the context of a relationship.

Counselling can help individuals and couples understand if their relationship can be worked on to enhance emotional and sexual intimacy and satisfaction, and to identify if it’s time to call it quits.

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