The Truth about Sex

commentNo Comments

Who doesn’t want a relationship with a great sex life?

When it comes to sex there is no normal. We are all different, unique. Two people are never identical and what constitutes a satisfying sex life is different for every relationship. Despite this, the research on sex in relationship allows us to make some general observations about what works, the differences between men and women, and there are some extremely valuable tips for happiness.


Because people’s attitudes and sex drives can differ so much, there is no substitute for choosing a partner generally compatible up front. The work of Professor Terri Orbuch Ph.D. shows that in relationship generally the compatibility sweet spot is 86%. The same is true for sex. We will never find someone identical to us, and some difference is actually positive and exciting. But high compatibility up front is correlated with long term happiness.

Normal vs average 

We can’t talk about what’s normal but can we talk about what’s average. Research shows that on average couples have sex once a week, and interestingly this is also the goldilocks level for happiness. Couples having sex less than once a week report being less happy. At once a week happiness plateaus and sex more than once a week does not, on average, equate to more happiness. And by the way people who report happy sex lives live longer and better .

The differences in how men and women approach sex 

Again we are all unique, but the research shows that generally speaking men and women approach sex very differently.  To simplify the reams of research there are two equations :

For women :

Trust + connection  = more and better sex

For  men :

Appreciation + sex = more and better connection

Let’s talk about women. 

Trust + connection  = more and better sex

The US based  Gottman Institute studied thousands of couples over forty years, dubbed the LoveLab by the media. What they conclude is the number one thing women look for in a man is trustworthiness. The two complaints that women have when not happy in a relationship are:

He is never there for me ( trustworthy, reliable, does what he says he will)

There isn’t enough intimacy and connection (listening rather than problem solving conversations, accepting and understanding feelings ). Women think that emotional intimacy is best achieved through talking about feelings.

There is a strong evolutionary drive behind this. When women feel safe physically and emotionally, and their feelings heard, they open to sex .

Let’s talk about men.

Appreciation + sex = more and better connection

Professor’s Terri Orbuch PhD. research of hundreds of couples over decades shows a high correlation between men’s feeling of appreciation and their ability to be intimate and connect and be happy in a relationship.

Women get appreciation from many more places than men. From women friends and family, from women strangers in the street ( oh I like those shoes…) . Men need it as much as women but they get it, if at all, just from their partner. If men feel appreciated, they become more vulnerable and intimate .

Gottman’s work shows that the top two complaints of men who are unhappy in relationship, are that there is too much fighting, and not enough sex.

Dr Lindsay Gibson in her beautiful article about men and sex, points out that what  many women don’t understand about men is that :

“ for many men, sex is the deepest level of intimacy. It can satisfy multiple needs at once , giving  him an opportunity to feel closeness, vulnerability, reassurance, and self transcendence all in one experience. For the man sex may replenish his soul, but for the woman, his interest may feel only physical.  Because a woman can get those same needs met partly in other ways , it is hard for her to imagine that a man may get those primarily, and sometimes only, from lovemaking. “

As a woman if you want a more intimate and connected man, regular sex and appreciation is the key!

As a man if you want more sex and less fighting , being trustworthy, listening and understanding your partner’s feelings is the key!

We can rail against these differences all we like, but it’s the result of evolution. In hunter gatherer  societies women sat around the fire and talked and gathered.  The stronger their emotional connection to others, the more they were likely to share food and survive.

Men, the hunters , needed to be stoic, to focus on the prey despite how they felt. To therefore avoid time discussing feelings, and  rather solve the issue and refocus on the he prey to survive.

In successful relationships couples learn ( often the hard way) to accomodate these differences and move toward each other’s biological and emotional needs.

Sex changes over time in relationship.

To make things even more fun and challenging sex changes over time in a relationship. The human behaviour researcher and anthropologist Helen Fisher describes romantic relationships in three stages with dominant attributes and supporting hormones :

Lust – dominated by the physical act of sex, marked by increased levels of testosterone and oestrogen to drive sexual desire and satisfaction. You are hungry for each other.

Attraction– spending time with your specific potential partner becomes the primary focus, marked by dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. You can feel like you are walking on air about your partner. Sex can feel deeply connecting and full of promise.

Attachment – bond and commitment to each other form providing calm and comfort. This too has its own hormones, oxytocin and vapopressin which reward bonding. Sex can feel more meaningful and fulfilling.

Now if you’ve been in a long term relationship you know these stages . They can overlap and we of course still feel many moments of lust and attraction in attachment , but they describe well the big shifts that occur.

As singles we can get addicted to the strong reward  hormones of particularly lust,  and we start to feel something is missing or wrong as we  ‘settle’ into attraction and attachment. Research from couples who maintain a healthy sex life over decades shows that they often feel the sex in the latter stages is better. Maybe less intense and acrobatic, but deeper, more heartfelt and nourishing.

Top tips for a happy sex life 

Here are the five  top tips from the relationship research :

1) Where you place your focus things grow. Particularly in the attachment stage the pressures of work and children can lead to a lack of time and space for your sex life. In my relationship we have what my partner and I call  “loved up Friday’s”. Every Friday we make a commitment to our “loved-upness” and make sure we plan some space for good sex, be it on waking up, a sneaky afternoon delight, pre dinner or post dinner.

2) Grant your partner the gifts they need to fire up their different sex equation 

For women :

Trust + connection  = more and better sex

For men :

Appreciation + sex = more and better connection

3) Communication. Talk about sex, what you need and like in sex. How it feels different as a woman or man. Be open about the changing stages of sex in your relationship.

4) The 6 second kiss. When coming and going from your partner, take a moment for a kiss. And not just a peck, apparently 6 seconds leads to a big step up in hormones that creates a real increase in feelings of connection and intimacy. Oh so simple but powerful .

5) maintenance sex.  Research shows that couples who only have sex when they are “in the mood” end up with unfulfilled sexless relationships. You need to create space to get in the mood. Jump in the canoe and start rowing together, it may take a little effort at first, but then the beauty and flow of the river will take you with it!


Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed