What Makes Sex Intimate? Try Affection.

I had an interesting conversation with my husband recently about casual versus committed sex. Why is committed sex so much better? Casual sex can actually feel quite physically pleasurable, but it lacks the intense satisfaction that marital sexual intimacy provides.

One reason research has revealed is that men get a wash of feel-good chemicals during sex that isn’t nearly as strong in casual relationships as it is in committed sex. Another study showed that men responded positively to the faces of their partners, over images of other women, due to the presence of oxytocin, a body chemical released in especially high doses during lovemaking. And of course, hubby and I discussed the deeper emotional and spiritual meaning of sexual intimacy in marriage.

However, I recently came across another interesting aspect that didn’t surprise me, though I was happy to see it show up so clearly in the research: One primary reason that sex feels so good is the affection we receive from our partner. It’s not just the arousal sensations but the closeness and physical touch we get when we make love.

Couple lying in bed and holding hands with blog post title

This particular study used three different methods to look at what the link between sexual pleasure and affection might be. First, they conducted a survey that showed “a strong correlation between sex and positive emotions, but only when affection was factored into the equation. When affection was removed, the link almost disappeared.” You hear that? If it’s just about the sex, without genuine affection, you don’t get the positive-emotion payoff.

The researchers also had 200 participants, mostly marrieds, keep a journal tracking their sexual frequency and “erotic feelings,” as well as times they had non-sexual intimacy and affection with their mates. The result? “Sex correlated with positive emotions almost exclusively when it also led to affection (more than 90% of the time across all of the couples’ journals).”

Finally, the study asked 60 couples to track their sexual and non-sexual affection in real time on their smartphones. Participants reported affection after sex, but also hours later — demonstrating that affection was a positive consequence of lovemaking.

So are we having sex in part to get affection? It seems that’s a factor. Is sex more meaningful when paired with affection? Absolutely.

Of course, I believe all of this is God’s design for sex. Marriage provides the perfect context for daily affection as well as frequent lovemaking. From this research, it appears that the affection might be more important than the sex in giving you the positive emotions of intimacy with your spouse. However, when both are present in your relationship, they feed each other. Sex increases affection, and affection leads to sex.

Sex increases affection, and affection leads to sex. Click To Tweet

That is God’s beautiful design.

How should you use this information in your marriage?

Well, some of us are more naturally drawn to affection, and some are more drawn to sex. And oftentimes, people from different categories marry each other. And then there are those who have simply shut down both affection and sex in their marriage. Be honest with yourself: Do any of these sound familiar?

  • “I’m not having sex with him unless and until he spends a lot more time on romance and affection with me.”
  • “I’m tired of him wanting to be cuddle but not wanting to have sex. If he wants to touch me, why can’t he arouse me too?”
  • “I try to turn her on, but she takes too long to orgasm. So I just go after my own climax.”
  • “It’s been months since we made love, and we rarely touch anymore.”

Those are just a few examples, and I’m sure you could come up with others, but they illustrate what I’ve heard from various marriages. Some spouses are aching for more affection, and some spouses are aching for more sex. And some marriages are desperately in need of both.

But I’m not sure it matters as much which comes first: sex or affection. Or maybe it does matter, in that you should figure out what your spouse desires and try to meet that. Great marriages arise from spouses who make an effort to satisfy their mate’s deepest longings.

Great marriages arise from spouses who make an effort to satisfy their mate's deepest longings. Click To Tweet

Of course, it’s best if both of you are putting forth that effort. However, one spouse can ignite change in a marriage. So rather than thinking about what you’re not getting, maybe you should consider what your spouse longs for.

Because if it’s affection, providing that might lead to more sex. And if it’s sex, that might lead to more affection. And all of that will produce more positive emotions about each other and your relationship — that is, a greater sense of intimacy.

Regardless, most of us marrieds could spend more time on affection during sex. That is, we could slow things down and spend more time touching.

So ask yourself: Where do I need to invest? Affection, sex, or both? Then go do that. My prayer is that positive emotions and intimacy will follow.

Sources: Forbes.com – The Reasons Why Sex Makes Us Happy May Not Be What You ThinkPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin – More Than Just Sex: Affection Mediates the Association Between Sexual Activity and Well-Being; WebMD – How the ‘Love Hormone’ Works Its Magic

8 thoughts on “What Makes Sex Intimate? Try Affection.

  1. Mitch

    This is a difficult one to explain to the mrs. Affection and sex are directly related to one another. I still get accused of only wanting SEX even though it’s the affection and emotional connection I’m after. My wife is a homebody and I’m an outdoorsman. There’s only so long I can stand to stay on the couch watching tv shows or Netflix before I’m up roaming looking for something to tinker with. I would love for her to hop on a bicycle and ride with me or take evening walks, hold hands and talk about whatever is on our minds. The Houston heat is ridiculous and so are the mosquitoes but I grew up here. When we have opportunities to bond in our marriage bed, that’s when emails are checked, Facebook is scrolled though or games are played on the iPad. I’m a very affectionate person and am often left staring at the ceiling or wall just wanting to be wanted.

    Reply
    1. Racheal

      Technology is like a two-edged sword isn’t it? It can be used powerfully to encourage and connect people on the one hand, but on the other it can also distance and isolate, as you’re experiencing with your wife. When my husband and I married, we decided not to have a tv (though we obviously have computer/internet) and I’ve absolutely loved not having that time waster/distraction in the house. As a result we had a lot of children fast…hahaha…6 in 10 years (SO many people see our tribe and ask ‘don’t you have a tv?’)!
      Do you ask her to go for a walk and she turns you down? I know there’s been a couple of times when hubby has asked if I want to go outside and watch the lightning during summer storms with him and I refused, feeling too busy. But mostly it’s great to jump at those opportunities to spend time together.
      In regard to this blog post though, I totally agree that sex and affection should accompany each other. It definitely builds the marriage bond.

      Reply
      1. Mitch

        Racheal, I’ve made suggestions like no electronics in the bedroom. The idea was swiftly rejected. I refuse to have a television in the bedroom which was met with understanding. Not sure how those two are different. I purchased her a really nice comfort bike shortly after we wed. She’s been on it twice and just long enough to pedal around the cul de sac. We have walked on numerous occasions when the weather was cooler. I’d like to more often but with three children, (2) of my own and (1) between us, homework and after school activities make it difficult. She does work from home so lots of evenings are spent finishing up due to the little one interfering throughout the day.

        Reply
  2. Cara

    Awesome! My hubby and I generally have a good balance (we are very blessed in that we are similar). Occasionally we get a little off kilter and deal with the “well, I’m not getting any affection so I’m not giving sex” and I’m sure he feels rejected and unwanted so he withdraws.
    It’s nice to have a full explanation because that helps to avoid it I think. Allows me to think more logically….

    Reply
  3. Lynn

    Oh my. What a beautiful reminder of the value of a committed relationship. I am a hyper-affectionate person who grew up in a physically non-affectionate family and then spent time as a single woman in mission work where physical affection was discouraged. I am the luckiest woman on earth to have found, late in life, a man who tolerates me fawning all over him. I touch him whenever I am within arms reach. And best of all, the affection has made him blossom in ways that (he tells me) he never anticipated. God’s grace! What a wonder!

    Reply
  4. Eric V

    Thanks for this. I couldn’t imagine sex without affection. She can’t live without spooning when we go to bed (sometimes even in the middle of the night). That counts as affection, right?

    However, like everything else, it takes effort or it, sex and affection, simply won’t happen.
    If it’s been a while, I can spiral down emotionally with an annoying recurring internal dialogue that criticizes my needs as selfish. Work to do!

    Reply
  5. anthony innerd

    I could write a book on the affects of this going wrong.
    But thinking positive, hope drives me on to lost intimacy.
    If we take the work intimacy and break in two we get inti – and- macy.
    Inti can be like inter, like two parts of say football team , e.g. Inter-Milan and Milan.
    So in a relationship, one is like two different parts.
    If we take take – other part of intimacy – ‘macy’, then that is the glue that holds relationship whole.
    As – ‘macy’ is the part that says, I know all about the other person, their needs and core emotions we all are subject to, i.e. fear, anger, sadness, disgust, joy, excitement, sexual excitement.
    I would like to reach intimacy and to be my authentic self. I think we all reach for this.
    Intimacy is therefore a vital part of a marriage.
    Please pray for all those reaching for this, myself included.
    BLess

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Sex Is Less About The Physical For Women

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.