Home Science 'Sexual communication' is key to a good relationship, study shows

'Sexual communication' is key to a good relationship, study shows

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Telling your partner what you want in bed is more important than the amount of sex you have when it comes to relationship satisfaction, a new study shows. 

Researchers surveyed 126 young, early stage couples about their sex life, including how often they had sex, and their levels of both sexual satisfaction and general satisfaction with their relationship.  

Both ‘sexual frequency’ – having sex often – and ‘sexual communication’ – saying what they want in the bedroom – was an indicator of sexual satisfaction.

However, only sexual communication was found to be a predictor of being satisfied more widely with the relationship. 

The benefits of clear and honest communication about sexual needs and fantasies has much wider benefits beyond the bedroom, the study suggests. 

A sample of 126 young couples filled out questionnaires about sexual frequency, sexual communication, and sexual and relationship satisfaction

A sample of 126 young couples filled out questionnaires about sexual frequency, sexual communication, and sexual and relationship satisfaction

Understanding what makes relationships tick, especially in their early stages, can be the difference between a chance at long-term happiness or a short-term fling, the team say. 

‘Our research shows that communicating with your partner is essential for ensuring a good sex life as well as a happy relationship,’ said study’s lead author, Rick Roels, Department of Neurosciences at the University of Leuven in Belgium. 

The team analysed two separate factors to judge sexual and relationship satisfaction in the early stages of budding romances – sexual frequency and sexual communication. 

Previously, sexual frequency and sexual communication have independently been shown to contribute to sexual satisfaction. 

But this new study is the first to examine the contribution of both factors to both sexual and relationship satisfaction in young, heterosexual couples 

Whereas sexual frequency constitutes a ‘quantitative indicator’ of a couple’s sexual interactions, sexual communication represents ‘a more qualitative dimension’, the team says.

Only sexual communication, not sexual frequency, predicted relationship satisfaction outside of the bedroom

Only sexual communication, not sexual frequency, predicted relationship satisfaction outside of the bedroom 

In other words, the frequency of which a couple has sex may not be a reliable indicator of how sexually satisfied they are in their relationship.

In general, communication between sexual partners has been found to be important to sexual satisfaction. 

‘Mutual disclosure is linked to greater sexual satisfaction as it may increase feelings of intimacy and connectedness in the couple,’ the team say. 

‘Increased communication between two partners is associated with higher levels of sexual satisfaction, whether this concerns general or sexual communication.

‘Others, however, have reported the specific importance of communication about sex, in particular sexual needs and desires, for sexual satisfaction.’

For this study, the team surveyed 126 heterosexual couples with an average age of 23 years, recruited from the Flemish region of Belgium.  

Participants had to be aged between 18 and 30 years, in a committed, heterosexual relationship for at most three years and co-habitating or spending at least four nights a week together for no more than two years.

Individuals were excluded if they had co-habited with or been married to someone else before and if they had children or were pregnant.

Only individuals who considered themselves as being in general good health were included, and were excluded if they were in treatment for sexual dysfunctions.  

Couples could benefit from focusing on non-behavioural processes (like sexual communication), rather than sexual behaviour per se, when pursuing a fulfilling partnership

Couples could benefit from focusing on non-behavioural processes (like sexual communication), rather than sexual behaviour per se, when pursuing a fulfilling partnership

The participants completed a questionnaire that assessed the frequency of sexual and intimate activities. 

They were asked how often they engaged in such activities during the last 12 months, with response options ranging from ‘not once’, ‘once a month or less’, ‘several times a month’, ‘once or twice a week’, ‘a few times a week’, ‘once a day’ and ‘more than once a day’. 

Another questionnaire they had to complete measured how respondents perceived the discussion of sexual matters with their partners, featuring questions about whether they enjoy talking about sex and about the ease with which they can communicate their sexual preferences to their partner.  

The participants were also assessed on their level of sexual satisfaction and asked about how satisfied they were in their relationship generally. 

The responses showed that although both sexual frequency and sexual communication had an effect on sexual satisfaction, only sexual communication, such as the ability to express one’s sexual needs, not sexual frequency, predicted relationship satisfaction.  

Therefore, being able to openly express one’s sexual desires and addressing sexual concerns with one’s partner can be considered advantageous, especially when partners have different preferences and expectations.

‘While our study confirms the previously found connection between sexual frequency and sexual satisfaction, it shows that, when both are included in a single analysis, sexual communication outweighs the frequency of sex in the prediction of relationship satisfaction,’ the experts say. 

They found no differences between men and women, which contrasts with some previous studies.

This difference may be explained by the fact that the sample consisted of young couples in the early stages of their relationship.

Previous studies reporting gender differences focused on long-term relationships or included a wider age range or couples in different relationship stages. 

It’s therefore possible that the older couples get, the less of a beneficial effect sexual communication has on their overall relationship. 

The team admit limitations of their study include the reliance on self-report measures and a relatively homogeneous sample of fairly young couples. 

The new study has been published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 

HARVARD UNIVERSITY’S TIPS FOR A BETTER SEX LIFE 

Educate yourself. Plenty of good self-help materials are available for every type of sexual issue. Browse the Internet or your local bookstore, pick out a few resources that apply to you, and use them to help you and your partner become better informed about the problem. If talking directly is too difficult, you and your partner can underline passages that you particularly like and show them to each other. 

Give yourself time. As you age, your sexual responses slow down. You and your partner can improve your chances of success by finding a quiet, comfortable, interruption-free setting for sex. Also, understand that the physical changes in your body mean that you’ll need more time to get aroused and reach orgasm. When you think about it, spending more time having sex isn’t a bad thing; working these physical necessities into your lovemaking routine can open up doors to a new kind of sexual experience. 

Use lubrication. Often, the vaginal dryness that begins in perimenopause can be easily corrected with lubricating liquids and gels. Use these freely to avoid painful sex — a problem that can snowball into flagging libido and growing relationship tensions. When lubricants no longer work, discuss other options with your doctor. 

Maintain physical affection. Even if you’re tired, tense, or upset about the problem, engaging in kissing and cuddling is essential for maintaining an emotional and physical bond. 

Practice touching. You may also want to ask your partner to touch you in a manner that he or she would like to be touched. This will give you a better sense of how much pressure, from gentle to firm, you should use. 

Try different positions. Developing a repertoire of different sexual positions not only adds interest to lovemaking, but can also help overcome problems. For example, the increased stimulation to the G-spot that occurs when a man enters his partner from behind can help the woman reach orgasm. 

Write down your fantasies. This exercise can help you explore possible activities you think might be a turn-on for you or your partner. Try thinking of an experience or a movie that aroused you and then share your memory with your partner. This is especially helpful for people with low desire. 

Do Kegel exercises. Both men and women can improve their sexual fitness by exercising their pelvic floor muscles. To do these exercises, tighten the muscle you would use if you were trying to stop urine in midstream. Hold the contraction for two or three seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times. Try to do five sets a day. These exercises can be done anywhere – while driving, sitting at your desk, or standing in a checkout line. 

Try to relax. Do something soothing together before having sex, such as playing a game or going out for a nice dinner. Or try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or yoga. 

Use sex toys. Devices can help a woman learn about her own sexual response and allow her to show her partner what she likes. 

Don’t give up. If none of your efforts seem to work, don’t give up hope. Your doctor can often determine the cause of your sexual problem and may be able to identify effective treatments. He or she can also put you in touch with a sex therapist who can help you explore issues that may be standing in the way of a fulfilling sex life. 

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