Is sex actually an indicator of a healthy relationship, as so many seem to believe? Turns out it is, but not in the way you might think.

“Our society without shame would be as unrecognizable as Earth without gravity,” sex expert Kimberly Johnson tells me over the phone. She says shame shapes the way people think, behave and feel to an alarming extent, especially when it comes to sex. I have to agree; people discussing their erotic desires publicly and plainly sounds about as alien as my cat swimming through air.

Johnson is a certified sexological bodyworker, somatic experiencing practitioner, doula and post-partum women’s health specialist, but I’m mostly concerned with her self-appointed title: “the vaginapractor.” As in, “Brb, I have to call the vaginapractor,” a phrase I had the opportunity to use in earnest last week.

I also called Dr. Chris Donaghue. He’s a doctor of clinical sexology, a certified sex therapist, a TENGA brand ambassador, the author of Sex Outside the Lines: Authentic Sexuality in a Sexually Dysfunctional Culture, and the co-host of the podcast Loveline with Amber Rose. Johnson and Dr. Donaghue have more in common than their sentence-long titles. They both help their clients, often couples, reshape and reclaim their sex lives in a culture they both described as being in need of “dismantling.”

It seems like expectations around sex are at a tangled all-time high — it should be good and frequent, but exciting and varied — and the topic of how much sex people are having has become something of a litmus tests for satisfaction in monogamy. Unfortunately, it’s a barometer that offers pressure and quotas in lieu of solutions. I asked Johnson and Dr. Donaghue to share some tips for people dealing with these struggles. Below, some ways you can flip the script if you want to.

Redefine sex

First and foremost, Johnson says the way we talk about sex is far too narrow: “I recommend expanding the definition of what sex is beyond penetration, which is so heteronormative.” Sex isn’t just one behavior, nor is it just about “finishing.” She explains that when people over-index on the pursuit of orgasm, particularly the male one, they emphasize the finish line instead of the playful exploration that precedes it.

Dr. Donaghue suggests thinking of sex as less of an act, more of a tool. “Sex is supposed to be — if you choose to make it so — about bonding, and a level of intimacy,” he says. “It’s a tool for partners to use for connection.” He never assigns sex like a homework assignment. “The way I frame it is that for couples, sex is an available resource for intimacy building and connection that your other relationships don’t have.”

Deprioritize frequency

Johnson says shame is to blame for society’s obsession with how much sex couples are having, instead of what kind. “We live in such a quantitative society, where our standards around sex are so impoverished that people only know how to talk about sex in terms of how much they’re having.” The pressure to have a certain amount adds undue stress, Johnson explains, and just as it’s harder to pee when someone’s watching, it’s harder to enjoy sex when it’s a box to check. “That’s not how the hormone system works, nor how our nervous system works.”

With his clients, Dr. Donaghue never gives out numbers and avoids the language that “healthy couples have a lot of sex,” as it breeds the wrong ideas. “Too much paranoia shifts what the true purpose of sex is… Every couple is going to go through different phases. You’re going to experience aging, illness, life events and stresses together, all things that shift the amount of sex you both desire and acquire.”

Both encourage their clients to practice accepting these natural ebbs and flows.

Talk about it (even when you’re not naked)

Too many couples only talk about sex when they’re having it, or not at all, and Johnson believes this is a missed opportunity. “We don’t have a lot of communication practice outside the stereotypical sitcom thing where the person says, ‘A little bit more to the left!'” Johnson suggests building a practice of fluidly discussing desire. “If a couple is having hard and fast, porn-style penetration over and over and they don’t want that, yet they haven’t ever practiced saying what they do want, they’ll feel stuck.” Johnson says “I’m not in the mood” can often mean “I’m not in the mood for the kind of sex we’re having,” and that opening up the discussion is important for changing it.

Dr. Donaghue agrees you have to be willing to share honestly what is and isn’t working, even if you don’t know the solution. “Intimacy is really about vulnerability,” he says. “So say what’s hard to hear and hard to say. What isn’t working for you? Is it the amount? The ways your doing it?” If you and your partner aren’t comfortable having that kind of conversation, he suggests practicing having difficult conversations about non-sexual things first, and working your way up.

Never stop exploring

Johnson believes the idea that sex gets stale in longterm relationships is a dangerous myth. “Sex can get better and better over time,” she says, “and it typically does with people who are able and willing to meet themselves at their edges, to be radically honest and continue exploring, rather than assuming they already know what their partner likes.” She suggests prioritizing exploration rather than just “getting off.”

Dr. Donaghue recommends couples start by asking how close they are feeling to one another. He explains there are may ways to feel close: emotionally, socially, erotically. “If you’re with someone you love, care about and feel safe with, try to use sex as a way to expand yourselves and your closeness.” Challenge your own ideas about how sex should look. “There is a heteronormative assumption that all guys are tops, for example, but some guys are bottoms. Just because they have a penis doesn’t mean they’re an aggressive, assertive, sex partner.”

Many unsatisfied couples are trapped in a pattern of sex with predictable steps, Dr. Donaghue says. For example: “Step one: I just took a shower; step two: I’m going to come sit by you; step three: we’re going to make out; step four: I’m going to touch your boobs…and it’s this boring path that’s become a force of habit.” Try to break that. Whether that means having radically honest conversations or going to a sex boutique together, he suggests you be open to exploring new avenues.

Think about your desires

Johnson says lot of people make the mistake of framing their sex lives around what their partner wants and needs, instead of what they want and need. “Some people won’t own that for themselves, but it’s important to say, ‘You know what, I do want this to be different, and here’s how I want it to be different, because a sexual connection is important to me.'” If you and your partner’s sexual desires are different, she suggests you both voice what you want and why, and see about meeting in the middle. “Work it out. Talk about it. Define what you both need.”

Dr. Donaghue says women are often taught to be a passive object to be sought after, and a lot of his work is in helping individuals find confidence in their active desires. Sometimes that means helping clients learn to feel comfortable with the body they have instead of waiting until they have the one they want, something he hears frequently. He suggests you consider your sexual influences. “Understand where your body-esteem is coming from,” Dr. Donaghue says. “Try to understand the images you’re holding yourself accountable to, and the messaging.” Try engaging with body and sex positive spaces online.

Remember nothing is wrong with you

“People panic and think, ‘It’s going to be this way forever,’ or they listen to what everyone else is saying and doing and assume something is wrong with them,” Johnson says. It’s this attitude that brings anxiety into people’s sexual experiences. Instead, make it deeply personal. “We really have to unpack our own sexual internal monologues. Start to ask, ‘What does sex give me?’ Really examine your own turn-ons. Ask yourself, ‘How do I turn myself on?’ Not how does someone else turn you on, but how do you turn yourself on?”

Dr. Donaghue explains compatibility comes in many forms. The three he often refers to in his practice are 1) emotional and psychological compatibility, like having a deep understanding of each other’s minds; 2) social compatibility, like enjoying the same things; and 3) sexual compatibility. “The strongest relationships often have all three,” Dr. Donaghue explains, because two can bolster the other when natural imbalances occur, but that it’s important to remember it’s possible to have some without all. He says he’s seen couples who hit the first two so powerfully “that the sexual intimacy isn’t really required or important to them.” But he urges people to remember that sex is a form of connection, and to not rob your relationships of that opportunity out of fear or discomfort.

Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi; Creative Direction by Emily Zirimis. 

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  • Rachel

    This is really interesting to read since it’s been something I’ve struggled with in my relationship in the last year. When my boyfriend and I first started dating we had a lot of sex and as our relationship progressed we had less sex but still a fair amount. Then I went away to Europe for a month and when I got back I felt like our sex life was non-existent. I really felt like there was something wrong with me or our relationship. I think having gone away for so long we had to connect in different ways so the physical became less important in our relationship. It’s taken me a long time I realize that the health of my relationship does not depend on how much sex we were having since all the other aspects of our relationship were and are great.
    Dr. Donaghue’s different forms of compatibility reflect my relationship pretty accurately. We still don’t have sex super frequently like we did at the beginning of our relationship but when we do it’s always great and fulfills that need for intimacy.
    I think this obsession with how frequently people have sex in a relationship is so damaging to people’s self-esteem and how they view the health of their relationship.

    • alex

      I had a very similar experience to you <3 It took me so long to unravel the shame I felt for not really wanting to but sexually active for a time in my LRT.

  • Adrianna

    Sex has probably always been the healthiest part of my relationship. I previously considered our positive sex life whenever we were going through a challenging period in our relationship. We want the same type of sex. We talk about it in specifics and abstractly. It’s when I always felt the most connected, compatible and equal with my partner.

  • These are some great points! *Warning: I don’t have much of a filter here*

    I think redefining sex and focusing less on frequency are the two things my guy and I have had to work with. When we first started dating, he had a hard time staying hard because he was so stressed and nervous about making it “perfect” for me. I had a lot of great oral for a few weeks (*winkwink*) while I bolstered his confidence and got him to understand that I doubted he could do anything wrong in that department (and I was right!). But if we couldn’t have talked through it, I would have lost my best friend and future husband.

    I have a similar problem sometimes when I feel bad about the frequency of our sex because we just moved to the city and have new jobs, and it’s stressful. Like I’m failing him because I’m not “putting out” enough. Orgasms can be beyond my reach sometimes because I can’t get out of my own head. Patience, communication and a nice slap on the ass help.

    It’s crazy how much pressure we put on ourselves when we’re with the one person we truly trust doing the most intimate thing possible. You’d think it would be easy!

  • Emily

    Hmm I do think it has an impact. In past relationships, with a very healthy sex life, my insecurity led me to question if the whole relationship was just based on sex alone. I’m much more secure in my current relationship, and see the sex/relationship connection differently – I previously viewed sex as a way to perform I guess, or to measure my attractiveness to my partner, as well as a physical pleasure thing, but in this relationship and with some maturity I have started to view sex as a means to connect. It’s interesting because if my bf doesn’t want it it feels like rejecting connection (although he’s just tired from work haha), but I never feel he’s rejecting ME as I would have before. Overall, the sex we have is really intimate and sexy and brings us closer, and is just one way that we connect among many. Before this relationship I had a period being single so I had some casual hookups, etc. but I think if I am ever single again I couldn’t do that — being in this healthy/long term relationship and viewing sex in that context, I have grown to see it as something really intimate, and idk if I could do it with just anyone.

  • peenerbambina

    I could not have needed this article more. I’m in a long term relationship which is the best of my life, I love my partner so much I pine for them when we are apart even after several years. But our sex life has always been a bit of a struggle, and it’s caused me so much anxiety worrying that our lack of sexual chemistry speaks to a greater incompatibility that will undo us in the future. The thought that sex could ruin one of the best things in my life breaks my heart. I keep questioning how important sex truly is to me because to be honest, if tomorrow we all woke up without genitals and sex was gone forever I would kind of feel relief that I could just enjoy this wonderful relationship. So much of this article resonates with me and I am going to try and put some of these concepts into practise. So helpful to me to read something life this though. Makes me feel much less alone.

    • Gabagool

      I don’t mean to sound crass, but perhaps you are asexual? Sex does happen les frequently the longer you’re in a relationship, but it sounds like it was never really important to you in yours. Just something to think about! The part about living without sex and genitals got me thinking.

      • peenerbambina

        It’s not crass at all, I considered it but I don’t think so. I have enjoyed sexual relationships in the past and still enjoy a healthy sex life by myself. It’s a problem specific to this relationship it would seem. My disappearing genitals comment is more to do with wanting to get rid of the perceived pressure I feel. Thank you for responding though! Xxx

    • Millie

      Just wanted to let you know that I am living in the EXACT same scenario as you. You’re definitely not alone. Hope you find peace and clarity soon <3

      • peenerbambina

        Oh that’s so good to hear, although I’m sorry if you are struggling too. I find it’s a really difficult thing to talk about with other people, I feel embarrassed to discuss it with my friends and I’ve always been able to talk about anything with them. Hope you are able to find some peace and clarity too xxx

    • p. c.

      heyyy this is my relationship!! literally to the point of “if all genitals and sex were gone forever, i would just be relieved to enjoy my relationship”! so… i started doing just that. i am just enjoying the deeply romantic relationship i have with this person since every time we do do the do something goes massively wrong, from crying and panic attacks to broken condoms and pregnancy scares and on and on. he says he doesnt mind and i still find myself wanting to be intimate with him and care for him in a -sexual/intimate way- but as for p-in-v sex? nah.

      a long long time ago, i found this list of “non-sexual intimate acts” that couples performed and it changed my life. i wish i could find it again because instead of just listing things, it went into depth how important each one was and sort of ranked them from something like furthest from sexual like doing their laundry or sharing food or helping them pick out an outfit to things you wouldn’t let others do like handling, removing, or seeing someone without their adaptive equipment like a wheelchair, glasses or false limb to things closer to sexual like helping them shave or bathe or giving them a massage or cuddling and even life defining moments like taking care of someone if they are sick or making an important decision at the hospital.

      once i started seeing all these little things in the grander scheme of being intimate with someone, focusing on the overall picture instead of the act to act, it made me a lot more secure in my relationship. i also talked to my boyfriend about what these acts meant and he realized that i see our relationship as much more romantic than he had ever considered and it made him see it that way as well. hell, even a grocery trip is romantic for us now!

      edit, i found it. i guess it was written as a writing prompt but it is so wonderfully worded and well thought out that it changed me!

      • peenerbambina

        That’s such a good point, and I’ve been trying to look at the intimacy we do share and really appreciate what we have and not just see the gaps e.g the lack of p in v sex. Thank you for the list, really helpful xxx

      • Senka

        “Every time we do do the do something goes massively wrong, from crying and panic attacks to broken condoms and pregnancy scares and on and on” – sounds like the description of sex life in my last relationship. Closeness was there, but due to whatever issues mostly I have, which I described in a comment under #metoo article, p in v was complicated, and frustrating and scary. My partner however wasn’t as ok with that, he wanted sex, and I felt wrong to deny him that. We called it quits.
        Then we faced a challenge of moving on, because mentally we are very close and share a lot.
        I don’t think I would be too desperate if for the rest of my life I didn’t have sex at all. As long as I lead a meaningful, fulfilling existence. I wasn’t always like that, but some experiences changed me.
        It’s however hard to find a partner who will agree to that. Most people enter relationships for, among other things, chance of regular sex.

    • Amanda Faerber

      Me, too!! My boyfriend and I have talked about this difference in our sex drives. If we encountered a situation where we could not have sex, I feel like I would still love him and enjoy our relationship as much as I do now. I think he feels it would be much more of a loss. I try not to convince myself that at some point in the future he’ll suddenly decide having frequent sex is more important than our relationship. When I have this thought, I redirect myself to think about how we can connect, sexually, emotionally, socially (to borrow Dr. Donaghue’s words) and realize that I am projecting that onto him. He’s never told me this – it comes directly from my own anxiety. I’ve also tried to work on the fact that this anxiety is likely preventing me from enjoying sex and welcoming and recognizing opportunities to connect with him in this way.
      Hang in there … you and I will be fine!!

  • rien de rien

    I’ve been surprised at times at how sex has become such a dominant factor in my relationship dynamics. There was a guy I dated briefly who was by far the worst sex I’d ever had, mainly due to his insecurities and total lack of understanding of female anatomy. I hung in there for little while and patiently tried to make things better with gentle but direct instructions and a few not so gentle warnings of “don’t ever do that again” (most important phrase in dating? I think so). I learned pretty quickly that he was so self-absorbed that he never listened to me at all and the sex stayed terrible.
    What surprised me the most is that I’d been cheated on in a few previous relationships, so I never used to consider myself capable of cheating. But when I was dating this guy, I started to understand why some people cheat and it started to feel like a reasonable option. I felt completely trapped by this person who was so insecure, unstable, and clingy that I was buried in guilt and still dating him despite multiple attempts to break up with him. We only dated for about 3 months, but by the end I absolutely hated him and couldn’t stand him even touching me. I hated him for always talking about how beautiful I was and feeling entitled to my body, but not respecting the person living in that body. I unquestionably have more animosity towards him than men I dated for much longer in relationships with much more devastating breakups and betrayals, but good sexual dynamics. Ultimately I didn’t cheat, but a big part of me really wanted to find a way to blow up the relationship and find some competent sex at the same time. The latter impulse felt equally important to the former at the time, and though I still don’t think it would have been the healthiest behavior, at least now I know that sex is much higher on the hierarchy of relationship needs for me than I previously realized, both physically and as an indicator of respect and ability to communicate.

    • ApocalypsoFacto

      Guys who don’t want to listen when you are specific about what you need/want either have hangups you can’t fix, or are just fundamentally selfish. Been there, done that – not worth it.

  • Jenna Frances Nimar

    Great article with a lot of interesting insights and perspectives! Thank you!

  • ApocalypsoFacto

    I am an old, and have been with my also-an-old husband for as long as some of the ladies reading this site have been alive. I don’t have many answers, but here’s what I got:

    – It’s really important for you to decide for yourself, by yourself, how important sex is to you. Meaning, outside the context of a relationship how often do you think about sex, how often do you masturbate, etc. Understanding your own drive is critical to finding a partner who is a good match for your drive, whether it is high, low or medium. I have a high drive and would have been miserable with a partner who had a low one. So if it’s important to you, find someone for whom it is also important. And please don’t think you can change someone into wanting it more, wanting it less, etc. It doesn’t work that way.

    – I really liked what the article said about frequency, which I feel is way overemphasized. Also, you and your partner get to define what “sex” is for the two of you – not everyone else. My husband and I have P-I-V sex maybe half the time and the other half, we do other things. The only thing that matters is if it works for you.

    – Before I met my husband, I put up with a lot of bad sex from guys who just did not get what I needed and did not care about doing what would work for me. Life’s too short for this. Kick people like this to the curb. Fast.

    – When you’re young and single, experiment like crazy. Anything you think you might like, find a way to do it safely. If you find something you’re really into, trust me – it’s better to find a partner who likes those things too – or at least understands it. I’ve seen marriages break up over a sexual aspect one partner found unacceptable.

  • Natty

    I love this discussion. Female sexuality is so closely linked so spirituality and emotional feedback. From a young age our sex drives and sexual curiosities (at least in the US) are repressed, discouraged, and stifled. Think about your first period, sex ed class, or early sexual encounters – I’d bet money they were full of shame. So we bring these negative, shameful experiences into our adult relationships, and then wonder why we feel so much anxiety about sex and everything it’s supposed to “mean”. I think every woman owes it to herself to do the hard work and reverse the negative experiences, remove the shame, and unlock her own sexuality. We are incredible, magical, sexual beings!!! Our bodies are literally designed to give and receive pleasure and CREATE LIFE in exchange. How incredible is that??? As soon as we acknowledge this basic truth about ourselves and really OWN our own sexuality, all the other stuff should come easy I think

    • K

      “From a young age our sex drives and sexual curiosities (at least in the US) are repressed, discouraged, and stifled.”

      That is so true. At school we were told about sex biology class, and then sex ed was just someone telling us about STIs/ contraception. So there was no actual sex ed, and certainly no “sex is good” ed.

      Inevitably, I feel moved to quote from Mean Girls:

      “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die! Don’t have sex in the missionary position, don’t have sex standing up, just don’t do it, OK, promise? OK, now everybody take some rubbers.”

    • rainbowskies

      I love your take on this. For me, my sexual awakening has been very much part of my spiritual awakening and the two are now profoundly linked for me. I also have two young kids and we are very conscientious about raising them in a sex/body positive home. There are so many opportunities to foster positive and affirming ideas about bodies, curiosity, boundaries, respect, consent….we have a little girl and a little boy, so there are opportunities to come at this from both ends of the spectrum. It’s really beautiful, and also a big responsibility, but one I am so grateful to have. It will be a huge accomplishment for me if we can raise them with healthy and affirming attitudes about sexuality.

    • Roos .

      I really do not think that there is such a thing as “female” sexuality, nor male sexuality for that matter. What I really liked about this article is how it is not heteronormative and I believe that good sex is when two people meet in a time/space where gender melts away. I do think that what we generally perceive as sexuality, dividing it up into the female and male sexualities, is so very distorted and does seem to lack in the (what we would traditionally call) female qualities: emotional, spiritual, sensual.

      I have had an enormous amount of very disappointing sex partners, where I could just see in their eyes that they were not really seeing me, having sex with me, but were performing this thing and it was really not that hard to see that it was due to their consumption of porn. In theory I’m not against porn, but what it is today, and with its legacy, I really am adverse to it. It makes people so incredibly irresponsive to real life sex, real life partners. I admit it is something I find very hard to talk about with my current partner.

  • Anonymous

    really interesting read. I am currently in a relationship that is one of the most stable, caring and emotionally satisfying I have ever had. But the sex is boring. We have made some improvements since the beginning (sex was even more plain in the first few months) but it’s almost one year now and I am starting to fret hat staying in this relationship will mean sacrificing sexual exploration and thrill. In my past relationships it sometimes took time to build sexual chemistry but I always got there.

    I have tried to voice my lack of satisfaction with our sex life in several occasions but I was met with quick responses and the topics was quickly put away. My boyfriend does not seem to be interested in discussing fantasies, kinks and exploring more in general. Or perhaps he is just shy on these issues. As a woman who have had very adventurous partners in the past I was never in the situation of having to push the boundaries before (they did it for me and I just had to go along), so this is new to me and I am struggling to assume the role of the sexual explorer in the relationship. I guess one side of me is afraid of looking slutty and influenced by the conservative views of women in bed we are all exposed to. But I promised myself to bring it up again and take more action on this at the next occasion. As much as the relationship is great, sacrificing my sex life would be a huge loss for me. Also, I am looking at the very long term for this relationship, and I am afraid that without better sexual chemistry we will not be able to last.

  • alex

    I’m really glad that MR put out this article. I think it says a lot of things many of us needed to hear.

    I am in a monogamous LRT, though I am of the belief sexual monogamy is rarely viable long term… I cherish the bond between my partner and I like nothing else, they are my best friend in the world.

    But I do think that at a certain time, as a part of checking in with where we are sexually, we (my partner and I) should at least have the conversation about opening up to being poly. It seems like a huuuuuge task though, one that I am fearful of. I wonder what sexual health/relationship experts think about that.

    To me, it seems like you can’t get everything from one person — you might have that friend who watches that stupid TV show with you when your partner hates it, the friend who will go shopping with you when your partner is like “you don’t need new shoes,” etc. It just seems unfeasible to me that one person can fulfill your desires forever! But I am a pretty jealous person… so. Just some thoughts swirling around.

    • Sarah

      WOW. This is tricky subject (the whole poly situation), but I am glad that you brought it up and you seem to have a decent grasp on it. I too would like to know what the experts say about that. SOS. LIFE IS HARD/WEIRD.

    • Adrianna

      I’ve heard one poly person emphasize that they only seek and date other poly people. They wouldn’t start a secondary relationship with someone who generally seeks monogamous relationships. I’ve met one (now married) couple of who opened up to a polyamorous relationship after 5? years, but I honestly don’t know how they went about it. It also makes sense that two people predisposed to polyamory ended up in a relationship in the first place.

      I’m starting to notice that people can fall into two categories –
      A. Very aware that they’re not getting everything from one person. This person tends to have a lot of friends.
      B. Never even consider it. This person tends to have a couple of close friends.

      I’m in category B. I’ve been in a 5.5 year long monogamous relationship. We’ve had our problems, but never about long term monogamous commitment or sex. I don’t feel the need to have physical or emotional connections with more than one partner. I get frustrated when someone who is fulfilled by polyamorous relationships insists that monogamous people are denying some sort of ‘natural’ urges. Is it fair to tell anyone their sexual preference is unnatural?

      • alex

        Not sure if your ending question is directed at me or rhetorical, but in case of the former: No! Definitely not! I’m merely speculating based on my own experiences, and would never ascribe a better sexual preference or put anyone down for their preference. In case that wasn’t clear, I edited my statement to be more clearly about myself.

        • Adrianna

          It wasn’t, admittedly I was projecting onto your comment

          • alex


    • Amy Brumbpo Tungus

      If you don’t think it’s viable to be monogamous then it’s not going to be viable. Each to their own but I find it a bit sad that from what you wrote it seems that it seems like you think it’s an unavoidable and disappointing fact of life that you’ll just ‘have’ to be poly down the track because your faith in monogamy is lacking.

      • alex

        Eh, I don’t think I *have* to be, I just want to have the conversation with my partner. I have seen a lot of divorce due to cheating in my day, so to that end, yeah, I’m generally not optimistic about monogamy, haha.

    • alex

      I’m editing my statement to change the general ‘yous’ to ‘I’! Never intended to ascribe any of these beliefs to anyone else, merely comment on things I’ve seen and how they may apply to my own relationship.

  • Madeleine Herritage

    Something I’ve found since getting married (which happened to be the first time we lived together) is that sex is important, not as a barometer of intimacy and relational-health only but also as a practice of intimacy.
    I am not saying it is important to always have sex, even when either partner is tired or not in the mood or stressed or feeling ill… But I have found that it is important for us to push ourselves to have sex semi-regularly, even if (especially when, perhaps) we are really busy and don’t always find ourselves with the time and space and pause and energy to be in the mood. We tend to have less sex, naturally, when we’re busy, and so spending less time together. We also tend to have less sex, naturally, when either of us is really stressed, and so the end of the day is often not much more than collapsing on the sofa to watch Bob’s Burgers.
    Yet, that can also be the time it is most helpful to push ourselves to spend even thirty minutes on boring, meh sex, because there is something really vulnerable about even meh sex.
    I think, though, this might only work in a relationship where sex is a conversation. We spend time talking about sex–what we like, what’s currently working for us, whether we’re in the mood, etc.–all the time, so we’ve got established communication and shared vocabulary about sex which I think helps us both feel comfortable being clear about what we’re looking for or up to at any given time.
    That said, if either of us is really really not in the mood? Meh sex is not even possible, and it’s probably gonna be subpar and leave the person who is into it feeling bad about themselves.
    I guess, the conclusion is that it is complicated, as all things that have to do with two (or more) already complicated and messy people, as all humans are, coming together.

  • Jay

    Haley, can you read my mind? I was just listening to a podcast today from Lewis Howes The School of Greatness (Spoiler Alert; Not all of them are actually great) – and he had Ester on…

    That was so interesting. It was all about relationships and how they function. And cheating. And sex. And vulnerability and letting go… and projections into a partner…

    Feel I need to post this one also under your article about redefining cheating. If you dont mind, Ill just do it…

    Give it a listen and lets discuss.

    (I just did, with my BF, cause I realised how creepily important all that talk is)

    And BTW I fully agree with quality over quantity. And experiencing and exploring something new. To me, while routines are nice and I love them (including spooning), it is so important to grow in your (sexual) relationship…

  • Irina

    This is very interesting. I wonder, when do those stereotypes take their form and shape in our minds? Like, reflecting on a belief that I have had in my head for a long time “healthy couples have sex every night”, I can’t pinpoint where and when exactly I heard it. This must be the subtle influence of movies, bits of internet forums, women magazines and such that built over time and led me to subconciously accepting it as normal, and even worse, measuring myself against it. The exact words healthy/couples/sex/every night might not be said out loud every time, but there is a whole framework of symbols and hints in place that makes you consider it “the norm”.

    Also, you guys must have had so much fun deciding on the visuals for this piece! I wonder what the discussion sounded like for this one.

  • EB

    I have heard a few conversations about this recently (on podcasts and in other articles), and every time I do it upsets me,

    I have been with my boyfriend for nearly 5 years, and our sex life is basically non existent. I have a high sex drive, but he struggles with depression, which leads to anxiety about sex and it means that every time we try he gets upset and we don’t get past kissing. This bothers me immensely (it massively affects my self confidence because I always end up thinking that I am the problem) and despite having numerous conversations on the subject nothing ever changes. We have once been for as long as 10 months with no intimacy.

    I love him dearly and cannot bear the thought of being apart from him… but I don’t know where this leaves me when it comes to sex – at this point I can’t see our situation improving. Does this mean that I learn to live with it for the sake of the love of my partner? Or do I have to move on? The latter does not feel right, but it is the answer I have heard from the few people I have confided in, and ultimately I feel it is what society tells me is a necessity.

    • doublecurl

      What “society tells you” is probably some BS about how often happy couples have PIV sex etc. BUT…what I find telling is the way you phrase this as 10 months with “no intimacy”. regardless of societal ideals, you deserve to feel an intimate connection with your partner in a way that makes you feel valued which it seems like you are really lacking

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