Couples who have been together a long time know that sex plays a key part in a romantic bond. When the sexual connection is satisfying, it generally takes up a healthy fraction of the relationship’s energy. But when the sex becomes unfulfilling or scarce or there’s some other sort of issue surrounding it, all of a sudden, it can overshadow so much else (and not in a good way). Why does this happen?
Well, the answer is complicated. First, it helps to understand that most people have a very narrow definition of sex. Too often, they think just about the physical act: a little bit of foreplay followed by intercourse that ends with an orgasm. But this description only considers so-called performance and results.
In reality, sex is a multidimensional experience that involves both partners’ bodies, minds, and senses. It’s a way for two people to come together, share their deepest intimacies, and express themselves using a beautiful language. In other words, it’s the physical, emotional, and sensual parts of sex that combine to create a rewarding experience, and these are crucial to maintain in a relationship. So when a couple’s sexual life stumbles, they’re missing out on so much more than that physical act.
To foster or reboot intimacy, it’s important to know that having intercourse need not be the central objective. Sex is wonderful, but equally important is keeping the following aspects of your sexual connection alive. These are the three elements that make for an intense erotic bond.
People can live without the physical act of sex, but we can’t really live without touch or we become aggressive, irritable, and depressed. That’s why the happiest mates are affectionate and come into close contact with each other in some way every day. That might mean foot rubs, back rubs, simply holding hands, or any other touching that feels pleasurable to you.
For instance, one of my female clients discovered in an exercise we did that she loved it when her husband stroked her hair. She was amazed by how pleasurable it felt, even though this contact was happening outside their bedroom (in fact, it was happening while they were fully clothed and sitting in my therapy office). This is a prime example of how great lovemaking can really be a whole-body experience.
Try to pay more attention to the way your partner’s hand feels when it makes contact with your skin or the way their mouth tastes when you kiss them. These moments can be just as fulfilling and tender as sexual intercourse, and they can make you feel secure and loved.
Both men and women need to feel wanted by their significant others. Knowing that this person craves you can make your partnership feel adventurous, edgy, and passionate, on top of feeling intimate and steady.
That said, desire isn’t something you can just force. What you can do is begin cultivating more lusty yearnings for each other by identifying what evokes your own turn-ons and turn-offs and communicating those. For example, perhaps you feel more sensual and flirty toward your mate after you’ve taken a relaxing bath, and maybe you feel the exact opposite when you’re really tired. Filling your lover in on such prompts (and vice versa) will allow you both to capitalize on the right moments to express and bask in your desire for each other.
Compatibility in the bedroom alone shouldn’t have the power to make or break your relationship. (It’s normal to have sexual misses from time to time.) But knowing what makes the sexual experience satisfying for both of you can really improve your connection.
To do this, think about sex not just as an act but also as a language that you become continuously more fluent in. This may take practice, because it is difficult to speak about sex when many of us have grown up learning to be silent about it. To start, try telling your partner what you like in bed, such as “I love when you’re on top because I can see you feeling pleasure and I like taking care of you” or “I love when you call me by my name because it makes me let go and completely surrender to what I’m feeling.”
When you put your fantasies into words, you are bringing your truest emotional needs to light. From there, you can focus on meeting those needs to ensure your sexual and romantic life remains wholly satisfying.
Here are some questions to help you assess how you feel about sex in your relationship:
- Is your relationship too focused on sex?
- Do you or your partner keep track of how many times you get it on?
- When you evaluate your sex life, does it feel like a judgment of your overall compatibility?
- If one of you wants to do the deed and the other says no, does the initiator get mad or upset?
If you answered mostly yes, you two may be putting too much pressure on physical action. Pull back from thinking that only sex counts as intimacy, and spend more quality time together outside the bedroom.
If you answered mostly no, you and your partner have a healthy amount of space reserved for sex while realizing it’s just one part of your dynamic. Continue talking about your needs and using other methods to bond.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.