Some years ago, Australian sex therapist and online dating coach, Bettina Arndt wrote, quite controversially, that women who felt low sexual desire in relationships should “just do it.” Meaning that they even if they felt low desire, engaging in sex anyway might encourage feelings of desire and sexual responsiveness. Now, her idea has been supported by a new scientific study, which basically found the same thing. Those who engage in sex with their partner even if they are not in the mood often enjoy the sex they have and enjoy other benefits such as feeling closer and more intimate with their partner.

A recent study, published in Social Psychology and Personality Science, has shown that when partners who feel low sexual desire indulge their partner’s sexual needs, they strengthen communal bonds within relationships. Basically, this means that those who respect their partner’s desire for sex and offer sex as a gift often feel closer to their partner as a result. In a way, sex is being viewed comparably to many other negotiations that we make within our relationships. For example, if one’s partner wants to eat out at a certain restaurant, at times the other partner makes a compromise on their desires, and accommodates their partner’s wishes. Doing the same thing with sex may allow for an expanded feeling of intimacy and closeness.

The topic is, however, tricky, as sex is often contentious as there are issues of consent, which must obviously never be disrespected or ignored. These studies were conducted with couples who had otherwise respectful and healthy relationships. Often, in relationships that have deeper and more intense issues, waning sexual desire is simply another manner of indicating that there are innate problems within the relationship. For those couples, often seeking counselling will help. When there are deeper issues at play, sexual relating may often be impacted, so it isn’t always about simply compromising for the sake of the relationship. Sometimes looking at relationship dynamics as a reflection of the state of the relationship is important for reflection and learning.

Healthy couples that are willing to prioritise the sexual wellbeing of their relationship tend to feel closer in many ways. Unfortunately, those in relationships where their partner has waning sexual desire are inclined to remember sexual negotiations more readily, which means that memories of sexual rejection feature highly in their minds. When partners are willing to engage sexually even when they may not be up for it, couples may cultivate a deepened sense of intimacy, particularly an increased sense of communal strength within the relationship.

Considering that most relationships are monogamous, partners are usually paramount to fulfilling one another’s sexual desires. Unlike other relationship needs, such as friendship or advice, which can be fulfilled in alternative relationships, sex is usually exclusive within the partnership. Cultivating a sense of respect for the sexual exclusivity of our romantic relationships, and attempting to understand each partner’s requirements for sex could create a deeper and more cherished relationship overall.

Muise, A., & Impett. E. A. (2015). Good, giving, and game: The relationship benefits of communal sexual responsiveness. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6, 164-172.