Research suggests we’re having less sex, and that the sex we are having is less than satisfactory. We asked 10 women to share just how important a role sex plays in their relationships.
Despite sex having numerous benefits, from increasing both confidence and mood, to reducing stress levels and strengthening the intimacy between partners. The latest figures from market research and data analytics firm YouGov revealed that on average only 27% of the population have sex in any given week.
The research also indicates sexual satisfaction levels in the UK have decreased, with only a third of adults now satisfied with their sex lives, compared to just under half in 2015 and 2014.
And we can’t blame the pandemic either, because even before coronavirus disrupted our lives, we were already well and truly in the midst of a sexual recession. If we’re really doing it less (and maybe enjoying it less too), we got curious about how important sex really is to those who are coupled up in 2021. Here, we talk to 10 women about the role of sex in their lives.
The importance of sex has changed dramatically over the 13 years I’ve been with my now fiancé. In the beginning we had sex every time we saw each other, and then about every other day when we started living together in year five of our relationship. Now we have two children and I’m just not interested in sex at all, partly because I’m a lot less attracted to my partner after all these years together, but mainly because I have begun to resent him. This resentment has led me to using sex as somewhat of a bargaining chip and a way to hold power over him in the only way I know how. It’s not that we have a bad relationship per se but despite my warnings that he needs to step up I don’t get any support in parenting our children or in maintaining the home.
Using sex as a means of getting what I want doesn’t feel good, but when I withhold it from him and use it as a reward for helping me, I at least get the assistance I need. If I had it my way I just wouldn’t have sex at all, but the system I now have means I’m often eking it out to every three weeks. I know it can’t carry on this way, but there is going to have to be some major changes on his part before sex becomes important to me in the way that it once was.
“I never realised how important sex was in my marriage until after having my first child two years ago. Like most mothers, life got a little overwhelming. As I tried to juggle being back at my high-pressured role at a hedge fund with being a new mum, and spouse – which for me includes a certain amount of societal pressure to be the perfect Middle Eastern wife – I soon found that being a caretaker for everyone else meant I came last on my list of priorities. Eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and socialising went out the window. As I started to lose sight of myself and feel uncomfortable with my appearance, the thought of being physical with my husband filled me with dread. So, we went from being intimate with each other every couple of days to around twice a month and our relationship drastically changed. The spark between us had been well and truly doused and it was like living with a best friend.
My husband never broached the topic or pressured me but slowly the day-to-day physical affection that I loved left our relationship too and with it the fun light flirty side of our marriage. That’s when I realised how important sex really is in our relationship for both of us, but I knew that to get what we had back, I had to get back to myself and make myself a priority. That sometimes means spending time alone, or with friends, and even doing less around the house. But the more regular sex we have the more we’ve been able to get back the light, fun and flirty part of our relationship that we both enjoy.”
“I’ve spent my 20s dating men who didn’t want relationships, basically trying to force square pegs into round holes for fear of being alone. Crippling self-esteem issues, hook-up culture and the hollow thrill of night life only exacerbated the issue. But when I found myself living alone during lockdown and feeling [down] after more dating disappointments, it dawned on me that cultivating a relationship during a pandemic, while not impossible, would be difficult, and perhaps exploring BDSM instead – something I’d been curious about – could equally be fulfilling.
That’s how I met my current partner, who gifted me a sex toy instead of flowers on our first date. We’ve been in an open relationship now for five months and I’m still surprised by how much I’ve actually benefited from being in a relationship where sex and BDSM has played such an important role. My confidence has grown in and out of the bedroom but despite our similar upbringings in white, middle class homes, we have little in common and realise that this isn’t forever. But that’s okay because I’m finally able to ask for what I want and that is something I’ll carry with me, whatever happens next.”
“My boyfriend and I have been together since we were 17-years-old and this is our first long-term relationship, we are also each other’s first. Losing our virginity together made sex a big part of our relationship, until six months in when my boyfriend had a miraculous experience with God. Unlike me, he’d grown up in a Christian household, but wasn’t a practising Christian until this experience left him convinced that God wanted him to practise the Christian faith.
This, combined with my interest in Christianity led us to decide to stop having sex altogether. It may seem strange to stop having sex if we technically already ‘had sex before marriage’ but we decided that sex had become a distraction and an addiction.
The decision we made two years ago has been profoundly good. We have grown stronger as a couple – as not having sex has enabled us to focus on each other in an intellectually and emotionally intimate way which had been pushed aside before. I have learned to value my boyfriend for more than just his body, and him the same for me – which is why I won’t have sex or any form of sexual intimacy with my partner unless we get married. And despite the transition away from sex being difficult, the joy of having God in my life has empowered me.”
“Sex is extremely important in my relationship, and in all the relationships that have come before. Even as an 18-year-old virgin living back home in the Czech Republic, I was intrigued by sex and read absolutely everything I could on the subject. When I finally became sexually active, I had a somewhat scientific approach, to the point that I had a relationship sex calendar. I noted when I had sex with my partner, the duration, the positions we tried, and the intensity of the orgasm – with each being rated by an emoji.
This need to control and measure everything (if you can’t measure you can’t improve) stemmed from a belief that if a man is satisfied sexually in a relationship, he won’t need to look for happiness elsewhere. I equated sex with love and if I wasn’t having sex every day with my partner, I believed it meant he didn’t love or find me attractive. So, when my now partner of three years first moved in, I was expecting to have steamy sex every day and didn’t want to accept that life would get in the way or that he might not want to have sex all the time. It took patience and a year in therapy to learn that not having sex daily doesn’t mean that I’m not loved.
I still find sex and pleasure extremely important and I’m lucky that my partner is open to ideas and happy to talk about everything, and I think because sex is so important to me I’ve kept the attraction we have for one another alive. This has surprised my partner as he hadn’t expected our sex life to keep getting better the longer we are together. However, he’s glad that I no longer record and rate our sex life, but he has learned that for his wellbeing and mine, it’s best not to have gaps above 48-hours between sex sessions. “
“I’m Guyanese and my partner of two and half years is Pakistani, and while we were both raised in Canada, talking about sex is very taboo in both of our cultures. This is why for years I thought sex was supposed to be painful, until I eventually discovered that the pain I regularly experienced was caused by severe endometriosis.
Previous partners shamed me and made me feel small and unworthy because of my inability to be regularly intimate, but my current partner has always been super supportive, patient and understanding. And since I had a surgery that’s allowed me to experience sex without much if any discomfort, we’re now able to be intimate more frequently and it’s only enhanced our relationship.
Our love for each other has increased, there’s a new spark and an even stronger attraction between us. But, I also feel like I can finally be my full self, and experience pleasure. It’s showed me how important sex can be in enhancing a relationship and has helped me feel more comfortable in my body.”
“I am in a platonic marriage with my 25-year-old best friend, who happens to be a straight Black women, while I’m a gay white woman. We’re more than just close girlfriends, but even so the relationship is platonic. This is despite us being hypersexual people, who deem sex to be an important need for both of us. Which is why rather than go without, we choose to seek sex outside of our relationship in casual encounters.
We’ve found over the last year that we have been together and especially now we are newlyweds, that people don’t really understand our relationship. And questions like are we secretly in love with the other or do we have sex, are common queries which I disdain quite a bit. It’s not just strangers and friends, our families are confused by our setup too, but we don’t feel the need to explain ourselves.
In the past, romantic relationships have often caused us to gamble with our self-worth and ambitions, but we feel that we are each other’s soulmate and we’ve found true happiness in our non-sexual relationship that centres around emotional support and caregiving over romance and sex.”
“My ‘nesting partner’ – the man I live with and have been in a relationship with for the past three years – and I discovered early on in our relationship that we both wanted to be free to enjoy the beauty there is in connecting with others, and the different expressions of intimacy that can bring to your life. When we discovered the concept of polyamory (the practice of having intimate relationships with more than one partner at the same time, with the informed consent of all parties involved) we knew this way of life was something we wanted to explore, but it wasn’t till we moved from our tiny town in Croatia to the UK that we had the opportunity and freedom to do so.
Three years later, and after having had experiences with people of all genders as well as those who identify as non-binary, I’m still not ‘out’ to most of my family and friends and I’d feel really uncomfortable if someone outed me there. So, being able to explore my sexuality here has been life changing, but it has also meant sex holds varying importance depending on who I’m with.
In my previous monogamous experiences, an increase in physical intimacy felt like a natural progression, but now it’s all dismantled – all my relationships can be whatever works for us. If I don’t have enjoyable sex with one partner it doesn’t mean the relationship has to end or that we need to work on the physical side; what’s more important to me is the connection we have. But equally, if I have pleasurable sex with another partner there is no pressure for it to be more than that.
In terms of my nesting partner, our physical relationship goes through phases but having sexual experiences with other people can actually be a good thing for our sex life too – it forces us to keep things exciting. But while sex is important in this relationship, it’s the deeper intimacy we share that is most important.”
I found that no matter how hard I tried to show dates that I was a funny, intelligent, human being with lots to offer, I was only ever considered as a sexual ‘object’ and never girlfriend material. So, after an on and off relationship that lasted three years and put me in therapy, I decided that I would be celibate. I didn’t want to be, but I felt like it was the only way to find someone who wanted to be in a serious relationship with me long-term. It helped weed out the men who either just wanted to get laid, and worse the ones who fetishised my Blackness.
When I met my boyfriend, it helped me develop a strong mental and emotional connection with him. We have been together for two years now and had sex on our one-year anniversary and it was well worth the wait. I think our closeness gave us a foundation for an intense level of physical intimacy and of course the sexual tension was intense. This is in spite of the fact we didn’t fully abstain from being physical with each other because I do think knowing if you are physically compatible is important. But I’m happy I stayed the course and abstained because I know that although sex is super important to us now, what makes my relationship so fulfilling is the love we have for each other.”
“My boyfriend and I only dated for six weeks before I left home to spend a few months abroad. I’d decided to try the digital nomad life before we met and I didn’t want to just up and change my plans for a guy – thankfully he didn’t ask me to. I did wonder if long distance would work, and whether it was too early to be so invested but I missed him from the get go. So, we decided to do regular virtual date nights where we both cooked the same meal and then ate dinner together. During those dates we often ended up talking about sex and what we wanted to do to each other until one day we ended up having a Zoom sex session. I was pretty surprised as I’d never even had phone sex or sent racy photos to a boyfriend before, but the more openly we talked about sex the more we both felt comfortable with one another. Not just in a sexual way but overall – so much so that now I’m back home we feel incredibly close in all ways and I think our sexual communication made this possible.”