Learning From the Best In Long-Term Satisfaction with Sex

Young romantic couple in bed

The early days of a new relationship can often be the most exciting. The thrill of discovering another person is often what people point to as the source of passion in those early days of a relationship. But many have also noted that early passion may start to dip as the novelty wears off and a long-term couple settles into a routine. A new study recently released has looked at couples in long-term relationships to figure out how they stay passionate even after years of being together. Their findings give couples who believe the spark is gone for good hope that they can rekindle the flames.

Why is being sexually satisfied important for your relationship?
There are a lot of different factors that go into a successful relationship — sex is just one of them. But studies have shown that sexual satisfaction plays a big role in how happy a person feels in a relationship and can reflect how other parts of the relationship are going. Good communication and satisfaction in the bedroom, for example, often reflects the same thing in a relationship on a day-to-day basis, which can make what happens under the covers just as important as what happens during the rest of the day. (Are you and your partner in sync, sexually?) This research team wanted to get a better handle on what satisfied couples might be doing well to give other long-term couples a sense of how to keep things passionate if the initial flame starts to flicker.

What contributes to sexual satisfaction?
The research team noticed that studies on sexual satisfaction in the past have relied heavily on looking at the physical side of sex, namely how often intercourse, oral sex and orgasms happen. These studies often showed that couples having more sex tend to be more satisfied. Since frequency tends to drop off with time, many researchers thought less sex was responsible for less satisfaction. But these two don’t go exactly hand-in-hand; people can stay satisfied even after the amount of sex they have starts to drop.

Watch: Sex By the Numbers

This is why more recent studies have looked at other components of what happens during sex. This includes foreplay, kissing during sex, and cuddling afterwards, all of which have been shown to have a potentially important effect on how satisfied people feel with their sex lives. The team also observed that many other possible factors haven’t been explored. They wanted to know how setting aside time for sex, taking time to set the mood for sex and adding in variety to your sex life might influence long-term satisfaction.

How did the researchers investigate sexual satisfaction?
The researchers used data gathered through a survey on NBC News’ Website in 2006. The survey was anonymous and respondents needed to be cohabiting with their partner and in a relationship for three or more years to participate. In all, the data included almost 39,000 people with slightly more than half of them being men. On average, those responding to the survey were about 40 years old. The researchers pulled data looking at how the person’s relationship had changed from when it started to when they took the survey, how satisfied each person was with their sex life and what kinds of behaviors they engaged in with their partner. They then took all of this data and looked for factors more common in respondents who said they were satisfied with their sex life and compared it with those who weren’t.

What did the researchers find?
About half of the men surveyed were currently satisfied with their sex life and slightly more than half of the women were satisfied, with the rest being either dissatisfied or neutral. When the team analyzed all the data, they found the following factors stuck out when satisfied individuals were compared to unsatisfied individuals:

  • Most people said intercourse, foreplay and oral sex were more common in the first six months of their relationship compared to the time of taking the survey. However, about one third of women said they orgasmed more frequently now than at the beginning and almost 40% said they felt less sexually inhibited.
  • Feeling desire for your partner as time went on was more of an issue for men, with 60% feeling their partner desired them more when they started their relationship compared to only 40% among women who felt this way.
  • More women felt more emotional closeness during sex now than early on in their relationship (about one third felt more close now and about one quarter felt less close).
  • More satisfied men and women reported more consistent orgasms both in themselves and in their partners and gave and received oral sex more often.
  • Sexually satisfied people had more variety in their sex lives. In particular, satisfied men and women were more likely to say they had tried a new sex position, wore sexy lingerie, took a shower/bath together, talked about or acted out fantasies, gave or had a massage, went on a romantic getaway or made a date night to have sex.
  • More communication meant more satisfaction and more passion for couples. The more strategies a couple used, the better off they were. This included things like saying “I love you,” using sexy talk, or laughing together about something funny that happened during sex.
  • Satisfied couples took more time to set the mood for sex. That included things like lighting candles, dimming the lights or picking some background music.
  • Satisfied couples used kissing more often during sex and changed positions during sex more often. Dissatisfied couples were much more likely to say that they often felt like they were “just going through the motions” during sex and more often used sex to relieve tension.
  • Satisfied couples used books and magazines about sex more successfully. Interestingly, satisfied and dissatisfied couples did just as much reading of sex advice, but satisfied couples more often put that advice to use in the bedroom.
  • Satisfied couples were more positive about sex, their sex life and their relationship. They felt more comfortable asking their partners for what they wanted in bed and often felt that their sex life was just as spontaneous now as it was when they first started dating.
  • Individuals satisfied with their sex life were more likely to be satisfied with their relationship overall.

How does this apply to me?
It should be reassuring to hear that many couples find their sex life as passionate and rewarding as it was when they first started dating their partner. The researchers point out that the profiles of satisfied and dissatisfied couples were fairly similar — it’s what they do, rather than who they are, that makes the biggest difference. This study shows that sex can stay fun, exciting and nurturing as a couple matures and grows together, but that keeping your sex life satisfying takes work. The researchers have the following pointers for those looking to spice things up:

  • Take time to use more foreplay before sex even starts (e.g., a sexy text during the day).
  • Make time for intimacy by setting up date nights or romantic getaways and by setting the mood.
  • Take time with foreplay, including gentle and deep kissing, which can heighten arousal and passion.
  • Mix things up: wear lingerie, give a massage or talk about fantasies.
  • Expressing love and cuddling after sex can boost overall feelings of sexual satisfaction.
  • If you run out of ideas, read sex-advice books and magazines. Actually trying out the ideas — even if just for the purposes of experimenting with something new together — could help enhance overall sexual satisfaction.