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How Important Is Sex In A Relationship?

how important is sex in a relationship

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How Important Is Sex In A Relationship?

“How important is sex in a relationship?” is a difficult question to answer since this depends on many factors

When I was writing my syndicated advice column on sex and relationships at least once a week I was asked “How important is sex in a relationship”? The volunteers at San Francisco Sex Information ( is external)) tell me this is one of their most frequent questions as well.

If you immediately answered “very” I bet I can guess your age.

Actually, that was unfair. Of course there are more young people who will give that answer than older people, but beyond a very broad generalization like that there are many variations. The answer to this will be particular to the individual and will vary according to age, current sexual satisfaction or deprivation, and life particulars at the time the question is posed. One quip I’ve heard on the topic is that sex is like air: “not very important unless you are deprived of it; then it’s crucial!”

So, how important is sex to a relationship? It absolutely depends on its importance to each of the people having the relationship.

More couples than you would guess who appear happy to their friends and relations (and perhaps even are) are in sexless relationships. A sexless relationship is commonly defined as one wherein sex happens less than 10 times a year. That factoid will be interpreted by some people as two people are ”supposed to”“ have sex more than that, no matter their preferences or circumstances.

One of the ambiguities here is my oft-stated truth that sex does not equal penis in vagina intercourse. Is a couple “having sex” if they engage in some other form of intercourse, such as oral or anal? What if they are having some other form of sex such as rubbing against one another, any part against any part, which is pleasurable and can result in orgasm to either or both? Isn’t that sex too? It is in my book. Perhaps the question might be recast as how important is orgasm or even how important is pleasurable and intimate touch?

I think often what is being asked when the “how important is sex” question is posed is “how often should my partner and I have sex in order to be considered normal?” What also might be behind this question is another worry such as “I’m afraid I can’t perform according to expectations so can I still have a relationship?” or “my partner is complaining about how often we have sex or what kind of sex we have so who is right here?”

Since this common question can mask many other concerns I usually respond “How important is sex to you?” If the person asking is coupled I also ask “Does your partner agree?” Generally not, or the question would not have arisen. Once a year or once a day, if whatever is happening between them is sufficient sex, there is no problem. Asking for outside validation is irrelevant.

So while the answer is often frustrating to the one who poses it (as sex itself, maybe), the definitive answer to the question of how important is sex to a relationship has to be “it depends”.

[Isadora Alman]

Isadora Alman, M.F.T., is a California licensed marriage and relationship therapist, a Board-certified sexologist, author and lecturer. Her syndicated sex and relationship column "Ask Isadora" ran in alternative weekly papers worldwide for 25+ years. Web surfers can find her columns on her online free interactive Sexuality Forum (link is external). She is the author of two collections of Q & A's from columns: Let's Talk Sex and Ask Isadora, as well as Sex Information, May I Help You?, a peek behind the scenes of a sex help phone line which still flourishes in San Francisco today. Doing It: Real People Having Really Good Sex is a collection of helpful hints and titillating tidbits culled from column readers and Forum web site users. Her novel Bluebirds of Impossible Paradises: A Sexual Odyssey of the 70's is out in paperback on She has also contributed chapters to several books including Herotica (Down There Press), Dick For A Day (Villard NY), The Moment Of Truth (Seal Press) and Single Woman Of A Certain Age (Inner Ocean Publishing, Inc.) Isadora has been a talk show host and frequent TV and radio talk show guest, and a lecturer and workshop leader on a variety of communications topics. She conducts her private psychotherapy practice in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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