The impact of sex in a couple

Sexual satisfaction can be defined as an affective response that arises from the evaluation of the positive and negative aspects associated with one’s sexual relations. It is considered to be the last phase of the sexual response, associated with the frequency and variety of sexual activities performed. The phases that make up the sexual response are: desire, arousal, orgasm and sexual satisfaction. In the study of the latter, several variables have been found that determine the level of satisfaction, among them interpersonal and intrapersonal variables and not so many sociodemographic variables. However, it is known that satisfaction decreases with age, and the role of gender is not so clear.

Authors such as Byers, Demmons, and Lawrance have proposed an “Interpersonal Sexual Satisfaction Exchange Model” (IEMSS), according to which sexual satisfaction is higher as, over time, relationship contentment is high and levels of sexual rewards are higher than levels of “sexual costs. A study testing the model showed that it worked for both women and men, as well as for recent and long-term relationships. They therefore conclude that the IEMSS offers a promising approach to researching and understanding sexual satisfaction.

Factors that can affect sexual satisfaction

  • Sexual practices: Including a greater variety of sexual techniques, increased frequency of intercourse and orgasm, and presence of non-coital sexual activities.

  • Socio-emotional aspects of the relationship with the couple: Sexual satisfaction is directly related to sexual desire, the latter being established as fundamental for the achievement of an optimum level of satisfaction.

  • Knowledge, attitudes and values towards sexuality: Strong religious values, conservative sexual attitudes, poor knowledge about sexuality and little sexual assertiveness are associated with low satisfaction.

  • Physical health and vitality: Coronary heart disease, as well as poor physical health and vitality are also associated with low sexual satisfaction.

  • Environmental barriers: Lack of intimacy can reduce sexual satisfaction in the individual and in the couple.

All these studies show the importance of sexual satisfaction in personal and couple life, to the point of influencing their well-being and quality of life in general.

How do love and desire relate and conflict?

As mentioned above, desire shapes the first “phase” of human sexual response. According to psychotherapist Esther Perel, the key to maintaining a committed relationship is “to achieve a stable balance that promotes affection, but in which certain degrees of autonomy and distance are also maintained”.

In some of his explorations, he seems to have found a “crisis of desire where romanticism or romantic love is present”. Unlike animals, people can experience aspects of sexuality through anticipation, the ability to imagine as if something were happening, which is key to desire. The psychologist highlights this component as fundamental in what she calls “erotic intelligence”. Is this crisis of desire a crisis of the imagination?

The principle of desire is based on the need for exploration, discovery and curiosity. It is often marked by a certain “selfishness”, in the best sense of the word: the ability to be connected to one’s own self in the presence of another. In desire, results that are predictable do not maintain the person’s interest, that is, they need space. As Esther metaphorically states: “Fire needs air”.

The nature of desire in a relationship starts from two fundamental needs of the human being; on the one hand, the need for security, for belonging and permanence, for predictability. At the other extreme is the need to experience novelty, risk and surprise. It is clear that the union of the two needs in a relationship, which could be called “passionate love”, is often a contradiction in terms.