I want to start by saying that sex doesn’t need to be a part of every relationship. It might be important to you to wait a certain amount of time or until a particular life milestone (like, say, getting married) to have sex. Or, as Liz Powell, PsyD, an LGBTQ-friendly sex educator, coach, and licensed psychologist, points out, “There are people who are asexual who are in relationships where sex is mutually unimportant or undesired, and those relationships are just as valid, loving, and intimate as any others.”
But for people who do decide to have sex be a part of their relationships, it’s super important. Because when it comes to sex—both having it and talking about it—you and your partner need to “navigate, communicate, and compromise,” says Shadeen Francis, a sex, marriage, and family therapist. Are you in-tune with each other’s needs and wants? Do you trust your S.O. enough to be vulnerable with them? And to handle your bod with respect?
Beyond the emotional benefits, there are also a slew of health perks that come with doing the deed. And that helps your relationship, too—because when your stress is down and confidence is up, it’s the perfect environment for your love to *flourish.* (Bonus: The physical benefits aren’t reserved for penetrative sex alone, says licensed clinical psychologist Sarah Schewitz, PsyD. “It’s important to realize that there are a lot of ways of being intimate physically: deep kissing, hand jobs, mutual masturbation, even watching porn together,” adds Powell.)
So while there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to just how important sex is in a relationship, the experts agree that it is.
Keeping reading to learn 6 expert- and science-backed reasons why sex is important in a relationship.
1. It gives you an emotional high
The blissful afterglow is one of the main reasons people do mega-intense workouts. And, it turns out, you experience a similar high after sex, thanks the release of feel-good hormones.
Here’s how it works: Sex releases dopamine in the brain, which increases your ambition and sense of happiness; testosterone, which improves your performance at work; and endorphins, which reduce your stress level and minimize pain. “All of these hormones together play a complex role in human pair-bonding and are essential in maintaining the glue of a relationship,” says psychologist and relationship expert Danielle Forshee, PsyD.
Plus, a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin has found that having sex promotes overall well-being and fosters positive emotions, particularly within 24 hours of gettin’ down. So, in addition to the immediate gratification, the physical encounter with a partner creates a sort of lasting “hangover” that can strengthen your relationship, mood, and emotional bond.
2. Sex can help relieve stress
By now, you’ve probably tried the de-stressing staples: deep-breathing, massages, hot baths, and even hotter yoga. But why not add sex to the mix? “Sex releases oxytocin into the bloodstream, which promotes relaxation and stress relief,” says Francis. “And oxytocin also combats cortisol, the main stress hormone,” says Schewitz.
In fact, researchers have found that sex is similar to eating pleasurable “comfort food” in its ability to reduce tension by stimulating the brain’s reward system. And orgasm isn’t necessary to reap the benefits: Your body releases oxytocin after only 20 seconds of skin-to-skin contact, so any sort of physical touch is beneficial.
While the reduction in stress is beneficial to both parties individually, it’s beneficial to the relationship as a whole, too. “Even if stress is not relationship-specific, it can interfere with how good you feel in it,” Francis says.
3. It can boost your confidence
Sex may not give you an automatically turn your BDE levels all the way up to Rihanna, but “it can be an incredibly confidence-boosting, body-loving moment for some people,” says Francis. “Most of us have some degree of insecurity, whether it be something about our physical body or not. But being validated by someone that we love and trust can help build confidence.”
That dopamine rush we’ve talked about also helps boost your mojo, says Courtney Cleman, CFA and co-founder of The V. Club, a wellness and education center in New York City. “The more we have dopamine, the more we feel good and we feel good about ourselves,” she says.
That’s key, because your self-image has an impact on your sexual satisfaction. A 2012 review of research on the topic found that “body-image issues can affect all domains of sexual functioning,” from desire to arousal to satisfaction.
4. You’ll both get a better night’s sleep
In addition to increasing oxytocin and decreasing cortisol, sex also improves your sleep because you release a hormone called prolactin when you orgasm. This chemical can lead to deeper sleep and more time in the REM stage—the part of the sleep cycle when your brain and body are re-energized and your dreams occur.
A good night’s sleep is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle, in no small part because increases your mental wellbeing. And increased mental wellbeing means less irritability, which means you pick fewer fights with your partner.
For a bonus bae-boost while you snooze, scooch close to your S.O. before you doze off. According to research from the University of Hertforshire, people who go to sleep touching report the highest rates of relationship bliss.
5. The intimacy extends beyond the bedroom
“[Sex creates] an intimacy feedback loop,” says Cleman. “The more intimacy you have in the bedroom, the more intimacy you’ll have outside the bedroom, and vice versa.” Research backs this up. A series published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that sex predicts affection and affection, in turn, predicts sexual activity.
“This loop is particularly beneficial to people who have physical touch as one of their primary love languages,” says Francis, referring to the concept introduced by Gary Chapman in his best-selling book. “If intimate touch is how you express love and receive love from our partners, then sex is a gateway for how you share affection and love,” she says.
6. Post-sex cuddles are the best (but really)
Getting all snuggly-wuggly with your boo is not only one of the greatest parts of the relationship for some people (it’s like a blanket burrito, but better), it can also make your relationship stronger. A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that kissing and cuddling after sex leads to a more satisfying and happier relationship. (Oxytocin FTW, again). But of course, to reap those post-sex benefits, the sex has to come first.
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