How do physical touch and consensual sex help build a healthy relationship?
When you are emotionally uncomfortable with someone and they touch you, what happens? You shrink from them. You may even back away.
It’s only human.
For touch to be welcome, you need to feel safe, physically and emotionally.
In an intimate relationship, physical touch can instill comfort and calm. It is a powerful way to communicate feelings of acceptance, trust, love and belonging.
The touch of someone you don’t like or don’t trust can really make your skin crawl.
What if the person you’re shrinking from is your husband or wife?
The Role of Sex and Touch in A Loving Relationship
Emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy ebbs and flows for all couples.
Sometimes couples enjoy sex for its own sake. They want to feel pleasure without the emotional attachment.
But without emotional safety, truly satisfying sex doesn’t happen or doesn’t last. Neither does the relationship. It’s not that either partner isn’t sexy enough.
It’s the way we’re wired.
We have a human need to bond and become special to a responsive partner. We’re born with it. Babies naturally seek comfort and emotional interaction with a caregiver.
We don’t outgrow this need for emotional connection. We all need some level of responsive attachment — a secure bond.
How Sex and Touch Work in a Loving Relationship
Love is more than just a feeling. Tuning into an emotionally responsive person helps you feel more secure within yourself and safer in the world.
Each person needs to feel cared for and appreciated. When and your partner see each other as friends, allies, and a safe refuge from the world’s dangers, you both feel more love and security.
With that love and security comes trust, and trusting someone when they touch you is very important to building intimacy.
Affection and understanding, through touch, affirms a sense of a special, secure bond between two people.
But if one partner isn’t feeling safe or comfortable, an otherwise welcoming touch can become very unwelcome.
If you notice your partner’s touch becomes less of a source of comfort, it may be time to look closer at the emotions you are feeling in your relationship.
How to Build Sexual Intimacy
If you are feeling misunderstood, having sex isn’t likely a one-step fix to make you feel closer.
Something like “duty sex” isn’t the same thing as a healthy, healing touch that can go a long way toward the restoration of intimacy.
Sex in a healthy relationship is about seeing it as part of couple’s emotional connection system — not separate from it.
Sex can build emotional intimacy beyond reproducing or experiencing pleasure. Sexual intimacy is a powerful way to bond emotionally. “To bond with someone means that they become special – irreplaceable – and you want to be special to them,” explains relationship expert and researcher Dr. Sue Johnson.
What Makes Touch Welcome or Unwelcome?
When considering whether a touch is welcome, consider whose needs the touch is serving.
Your touch is much more likely to be welcome if:
- There is a sense of mutual fondness, affection, or more between you and your partner
- You and your partner stay tuned into each other’s ups and downs
- The reason for your touch is to play, to respond to each other’s desires, or to share how you feel together
- You ask to touch them and clearly receive a “yes” answer
Your touch may not be as welcome, though, if:
- You and your partner are out of touch emotionally
- One of you feels lonely and needy
- You are looking to experience something, rather than share an experience with your partner
- You’re focused only on satisfaction, the sensations of sex
- You ask about touching, for example: “Would you like a hug?” and don’t receive a clear “yes” answer.
Touch Matters More Than People Realize
Touch and consensual sex are both very important in a healthy relationship. A touch can be soothing and affirming — but it depends on the context. That’s why it’s important to make sure touch is wanted before it is given.
In some cases, a person might not want to be touched. Your partner may need to feel understood first. Distractions may leave you with too much on your mind to feel open to physical intimacy. There are a lot of reasons for not wanting to be touched, and it’s important for partners to try to understand and respect them.
Touch can also be a powerful channel for the emotional closeness couples need. It speaks to our natural needs for recognition, comfort, and understanding. Touch can say “I see you,” “I hear you,” “I’m here for you,” “I love being with you,” along with many other things.
Reaching out to someone you love is a part of being human, part of building healthy attachment as an adult.
Let’s Talk About Sex
Consensual sex can be a beautiful part of a relationship. But consent is the key — and there is much more to consent than simply being in a relationship.
Couples who are emotionally connected become adept at tuning into each other. They learn to explore pleasure and passion that keeps sexual intimacy alive through the years. That’s because they are likely to be more open and responsive to each other. They take time to read each other’s faces and body language better, and reach out to re-engage if they feel out of sync. They share the rewards of emotional understanding, so it enhances the playful and sexual side of their relationship.
Sex is often a taboo subject, but it doesn’t have to be. Couples can learn to talk openly about sex, and help each other explore what they want and need. In our private intimacy workshops for couples, we dedicate time to explore emotional intimacy and how partners can feel safer and more intimate using sex and touch.
So, What’s the Bottom Line?
Sex and physical touch are important in a healthy relationship. Sexual attraction can bring to people together. But it’s the quality of emotional bond and communication — in and out of bed — that keeps love strong.