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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Great Sex Great Relationship

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

 



Great Sex and Great Relationship - Any Relation?

Does great sex define a great relationsip?

Libido, lust and desire… these are always part of every romantic relationship, yes? Surprisingly, the answer is actually no.

That was the quick answer, but, for those who want a bit more depth, read on to explore this issue. Again to be clear, sex or the possibility of it is not a major component of every romantic relationship. Physical intimacy is important, but contrary to popular belief many passionate lovers do not engage in sex play with their beloved, with not every type of romantic love sexual in origin or purpose. After all, lust and romantic love are associated with different constellations of the brain regions, so one doesn’t necessarily guarantee the other. Lust and libido are, however, notable players in our mating drive and the way we feel physiologically and emotionally when in love.

People who have fallen madly in love begin to find their partner very sexually attractive. One’s attraction system (the biological mechanisms that help to determine who we find physically attractive) is associated with catecholamine -- neurotransmitters that activate various brain systems -- which helps to facilitate our choice of mates and to focus on preferred partners in one’s efforts. Lust, which is often described as a “primordial human feeling,” may have evolved as a means of motivating our species to seek out sexual liaisons with just about any semi-befitting mate. It may sound cheap, but actually this sex drive enables us to pursue and maintain physical fitness, companionship and our ability to share. Plus, it provides stress relief. Furthermore, this craving for sexual gratification is primarily associated with the hormone testosterone in both sexes. And once again, we have dopamine to thank for the lusty part of our in love state since this love drug releases testosterone.

So great is the influence of testosterone that research has found those with higher levels of this hormone tend to engage in more sexual activity. Here is a shocker… elevated levels of testosterone actually have more of an influence on female than male sexuality, despite males having more testosterone in their bodies!

Overall, beyond our evolutionary understanding of the relationship between love and lust, “making love” is typically viewed as a means to enhance the expression and promotion of passionate love, with those who are more passionately in love experiencing greater sexual arousal when thinking about their beloved than those who are less passionately in love. Regardless of one’s degree of passion, sexual intimacy draws lovers even closer together and assists in cultivating self-esteem and self-actualization, while at the same time nurturing the relationship. This is why it is difficult to disconnect sex from its emotional consequences. The two are so closely related that more often than not it is unrealistic to assume sex can be fully separated from psychological outcomes.

Both sexes express passionate love with about the same kind of intensity. Research reveals some very interesting findings, some of which may surprise you…

  • While men are known for their ability to readily separate love and sex, their most erotic experiences actually take place within a relationship, with the emotional component heightening the experience.

  • Women are likelier to report feelings of love if they are sexually involved with a partner than not. They are also more likely to associate sexual activity with love more than are men. 

  • Men hold more romantic views of male-female relations than do women. They also tend to fall in love earlier in relationships, and show more brain activity than women in regions associated with visual processing, especially the face. Such a reaction may enhance a man’s ability to fall in love and explaining why he generally falls in love faster than females. 
     
  • Men tend to cling longer to a dying love affair than do women, e.g., three times as many men as women commit suicide after a soured love affair. 

Now back to the question at hand. While passionate love is often a key component to committed, romantic relationships, great relationships are defined only by great sex. Great relationships are cultivated by the couple based on the expectations each person. Couples should have sex or express physical intimacy in ways and with frequency that satisfies them both. Some couples want a lot of sex, others only occasionally. Neither is right or wrong. Managing expectations is the key here, and managing expectations more than great sex defines a great relationship.

 


Dr. James Houran's "Office Hours with Dr. Jim" column is published every Monday.


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