The Dilemma of Sexual Satisfaction

[sectiontitle1]Sex before Intimacy or Intimacy before Sex[/sectiontitle1]
Despite strong feelings of sexual desire at the commencement of a relationship, these feelings tend to wane as the relationship goes on. As we settle in to our relationship, we become more familiar with our partners – they lose some of their mystique and with it, their power to seduce us. For other couples, sexual desire gets overwhelmed by the day-to-day routine – work, kids, chores – and we feel too tired to engage in sexual activity.
But physical intimacy is considered by many to be an important if not essential component of a strong relationship. Yet for many couples, sex is fraught with feelings of dissatisfaction, fear and mismatched valuing.
When a women is feeling angry or upset with their partner, they often withhold sex because they are not feeling connected to their partner. They want to feel more intimate and close to their partner before they feel like having sex. But for many men, sex is exactly what brings on feelings of intimacy. Indeed, many experts now agree that for many men, sex is the principal means by which they express intimacy.
If this is the case, then many men and women may be at something of an impasse – he needs sex to feel emotionally connected, she needs to feel emotionally connected to want sex.
[sectiontitle1]So how do couples resolve this dilemma?[/sectiontitle1]Controversial social commentator Bettina Arndt suggests that women should just jump into the sack. Most of us, argues Arndt, will enjoy it once we get started. Psychotherapist and author of Mating in Captivity Esther Perel suggests that long-term couples need greater mystery and separateness if they are to sustain sexual desire in their lives.
Another recently published study argued that couples who are able to meet their partner’s sexual needs (even if they don’t align with their own) are better able to maintain overall sexual desire in the relationship. The study’s authors coined this ability of a person to engage in sex with their partner even if they are not feeling aroused as ‘sexual communal strength’. There was a sense that couples who exhibited higher degrees of sexual communal strength were more focused on their relationship and more aware and empathetic of their partner’s sexual needs. These people are in effect having sex as a way to enhance their relationship intimacy.
Of course, in order to engage in strong sexual communal strength, couples need to be able to talk to each other about their sexual needs. They need to be open, understanding, empathetic and responsive. Most of us value a strong sexual relationship – we just need to make it happen.


  1. Bradbury, T.N., Fincham, F.D., & Beach, S.R.H. (2000). Research on the nature and determinants of marital satisfaction: A decade in review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62
    (4), 964–980. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2000.00964.x.
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