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Research: Sexual ‘Afterglow’ Helps Marital Bonding Long-Term

By April 12, 2017Blog
sex and marital bonding

Think physical intimacy in the bedroom isn’t important?  Think again.  Research by Meltzer et al. (2017) shows that sex helps marital partners to feel bonded as they experience an immediate “sexual afterglow” for up to 48 hours.  Plus, those that reported stronger lingering feelings of sexual satisfaction, reported higher levels of marital satisfaction both at the beginning of the study and four or six months later.

Therefore, maintaining frequent physical intimacy in the bedroom is important to the long-term bond between you and your spouse and if the quality of your sex life isn’t great, it may be time for you and your spouse to talk about the quality and quantity of your bonding ritual.  After all, you owe it to each other to satisfy one another as required and reasonable, considering you’ve committed to each other for life!

I always find it surprising when married people have a blasé attitude towards their marital sex life, especially given the marriage contract eliminates each spouse’s ability to seek this elsewhere.  Starving your spouse of this need can ultimately starve the relationship of proper joy and satisfaction.  Is it fair to deprive your partner of the one thing they can only get from you?

Let’s look at it this way.  Oxytocin is a powerful bonding hormone that is released during physical intimacy such as kissing, caressing and sex and this helps us to build trust, feel safe and feel relaxed.  This very hormone is also released when a woman gives birth and when she breast feeds her newborn…to help them bond.  So if this “love hormone” that is important to the mother and newborn bond is also released when you and your spouse touch or have sex, then it must be  important for bonding in your marriage, too.

It’s all too easy to pull away, physically, when you are experiencing marital dissatisfaction but that is the very time when physical intimacy can really help get your marriage back on track.  Of course the underlying issues will still need to be resolved but when you feel connected, trusting, safe and relaxed, that process becomes a lot easier and a lot quicker.  If you are not even physically touching each other, let alone being intimate in the bedroom, then start working small daily intimacies back into the marriage like kissing, cuddling, caressing and squeezing.  Be playful with each other, show the other you appreciate them even if you are facing challenges, by still offering physical intimacy.  Withholding any form of physical intimacy doesn’t help you to resolve your relationship issues, it usually just makes you feel more disconnected and adds to your relationship problems!

You should also question which truly came first, a dwindling sex life or the other relationship issues you think you’re facing???  Sometimes the other “issues” only become issues because of the underlying feeling of disconnection between spouses.  It’s much easier navigating your way through relationship challenges with any person, when you feel bonded than when you don’t.  When you feel bonded to your spouse, you’re more likely to handle your partner, yourself and your marital challenges with compassion.  On the other hand, when you feel disconnected, you’re much more likely to handle your partner, yourself and your marital challenges with contempt.  Which is going to make resolving your marriage problems easier?  The former makes us defensive, the latter makes us reflective.  The former makes us more self-focused, the latter makes us more team-focused.

Maybe one way to look at a healthy marital sex life is to think of it as a frequent service to keep things running smoothly.

Questions For Spouses To Ask Each Other

If you’re brave enough and care about your marriage enough, here’s an enlightening exercise to help you.  Asking the right questions will help you to understand the impact your current sex life is having on yours and your spouse’s marital satisfaction and mental well-being.

When you both have time to relax and pay attention, grab a drink, sit down and ask each other these questions.  You both answer every question.  Take it in turns to read a question, allow the other person to answer and then also answer the question yourself.  As your partner answers, just listen attentively and thoughtfully.  Refrain from commenting until you have had at least 24 hours to think about your partner’s responses.  Only after some time has lapsed will you have more fully and more fairly and less defensively processed what your partner is trying to tell you.  Remember, each partner must be allowed to answer honestly without fear of retribution as only then will this exercise help you to learn important information about each other’s desires and needs, and possibly, information that will ultimately save your marriage.  Here are the questions:

1. How do you feel about our marriage when we do have frequent sexual intimacy?
2. How do you feel about our marriage when we don’t have regular intimacy in the bedroom?
3. How do you think frequent sexual intimacy influences your attitude towards me, if at all?
4. How do you think a lack of frequent sexual intimacy influences your attitude towards me, if at all?
5. How does having regular sex impact how you feel about yourself?
6. How does having regular sex impact how you feel about life?
7. What would create a satisfactory sex life for you?

Marriage means never becoming complacent about our spouse choosing to stay with us.  Show each other you appreciate the life-long commitment made and that you don’t take it for granted.  If you don’t, as you know, it’s pretty easy for people to have affairs and get divorced these days…



Seltzer, A. L., Makhanova, A., Hicks, L. L., French, J. E. McNulty, J., & Bradbury, T. N. (2017).  Quantifying the Sexual Afterglow: The Lingering Benefits of Sex and Their Implications for Pair-Bonded Relationships.  Psychological Science.  DOI: 10.1177/0956797617691361