How important is sex in a relationship?

September 25th, 2016

Is sex vital to a couple's ability to be sustaining and happy?  It depends.

Sex researcher Barry McCarthy (2002) notes that when sex is going well couples attribute only 15-20% of their relationship satisfaction to it. It's like icing on a cake: If the cake is good we give a slight nod to icing but attribute much more of the goodness in our mouths to other aspects of the cake.

However, when sex is going bad or is nonexistent it is blamed for a whopping 50-75% of their relationship dissatisfaction. The bad icing gets blamed for the bad tasting cake. In fact, two of the most commonly cited reasons for separation in the first two years of marriage are sexual conflict and/or the development of a sexual problem.

Common sexual problems include, but are not limited, to:

  • a nonsexual relationship. Research shows that in the U.S. 20% of married couples and 30% of non married couples who have been together more than 2 years fall into this area (Michael, Gagnon, Laumann, & Kolata, 1994)
  • premature ejaculation
  • erectile dysfunction
  • painful intercourse
  • inability to orgasm, and
  • lack of desire

Come in and work on all aspects of your relationship cake, including the icing. Seeing a trained couples and sex therapist who has the capacity and knowledge base to help set a specific course of therapy is crucial to improvement. Good sex helps foster intimacy, reduce tension, create shared pleasure, and re-energize the couple bond (McCarthy).


McCarthy, B.W. (2002). Sexuality, sexual dysfunction, and couple therapy. In A.S. Gurman & N.S. Jacobson (Eds.), Clinical Handbook of couple therapy, (3rd ed., pp. 629-652).

Michael, R., Gagnon, J., Laumann, E., & Kolata, G. (1994). Sex in America. Boston: Little, Brown.

Natalie Hansen
Natalie Hansen Counselling
406-555 6th street, New Westminster, V3L 5H1

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