A Couples' Guide to Long-Term Sexual Satisfaction
Sexuality is a very complex subject, and naturally so is the concept of sexual satisfaction. Sexual satisfaction goes far beyond simply reaching orgasm, although orgasm is very important in and of itself. Being sexually satisfied has many aspects including:
- having high-quality sex
- having sex as frequently as you would like
- having your emotional needs met
- engaging in the sex acts of your preference
Researchers have formally studied what satisfaction in sex really means to people. One study on this topic was conducted at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University and was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. The study gathered data from over 1,000 long-term couples spanning five diverse countries. They found that both men and women report higher levels of satisfaction with their sex life when they:
- kiss often
- cuddle and caress often
- reach orgasm frequently
- have sex frequently
- have been together for a long time
This definitive evidence that expressing affection (i.e. kissing and cuddling) is integral to sex satisfaction demonstrates that having your emotional needs met is just as important as the sex itself. Interestingly, the researchers also found that men who care about helping their female partner reach orgasm are more likely to report a high level of satisfaction. This indicates that generosity between a couple is important for being sexually satisfied.
There are some differences in what constitutes being sexually satisfied for men versus for women. In general, women are more likely to prioritize foreplay, romance and emotional intimacy in the bedroom. Of course, this does not mean that men do not also care about the emotional side of sex.
Why Sexual Satisfaction is So Important
Research has found a link between being satisfied with your sex life and being satisfied with your relationship in general. If you aren't sexually satisfied, you become less happy with your relationship and vice versa. There is even evidence that a good sex life can improve life satisfaction as a whole.
Science has extensively documented the health benefits of frequent sex. It's good for the cardiovascular system, it's a great stress reliever and the hormones released during and after sex are good for your mental health. However, research also has shown that the quality of sex has an effect on how much it boosts your health. One study found that when sex is high-quality enough that the female partner can achieve a vaginal orgasm through intercourse alone, it improves her health, whereas lower-quality sex that does not culminate in vaginal orgasm and non-intercourse sex acts are not associated with better health outcomes.
Why Do We Lose Interest in Sex?
There is more than enough evidence that the more sex you have, the happier you are. Despite this, the frequency of sex often declines when you have been with your partner for many years. This is largely due to a decline in interest. One study found that among people who had lived with their partner for more than a year, 34 percent of women had lost interest in sex while only 25 percent of men had.
We often lose interest due to familiarity and complacency. There are many other reasons why the frequency of sex might decline over a long-term relationship, including aging and the related physical changes, being busy taking care of children, differences in sexual preferences, health conditions, mental health problems, pregnancy and childbirth and relationship problems.
Fortunately, although interest in sex often declines over the course of a relationship, research shows that despite this, the quality of sex is better when you do have it. To give an example, one study that spanned seven years found that women in long-term relationships develop a better ability to reach orgasm. Nevertheless, increasing the frequency of sex will still improve sex life satisfaction even more.
Keeping the Spark Alive
Research has found that the majority of a couple's sex life satisfaction relies on one characteristic: The willingness of both partners to meet each other's sexual needs, even if one partner's needs are different from the other's preferences. Couples who share this trait are much more sexually satisfied. In practice, this trait, called "communal strength" by the researchers, may entail:
- having sex when you are not in the mood
- engaging in your partner's favorite sex acts even if they are not your preference (and not complaining about it!)
- making an effort to understand and indulge your partner's fantasies
- completely open communication
Developing communal strength is arguably the best thing you and your partner can do for each other's satisfaction. However, there are sometimes barriers to this. For example, if you or your partner is uncomfortable with sexuality, uncomfortable being vulnerable, suffers from depression or anxiety, feels disconnected from or resentful of you or uses sex as a weapon within the relationship, then communal strength is impeded. Fortunately, individual and couples' therapy can help you break down these barriers.
Lastly, don't feel like you have to have sex every single day to be optimally sexually satisfied. Research has shown that couples who have sex once per week were much happier than those who had sex less often, but couples who have sex multiple times per week are not any happier than those who have sex once per week.