“Can sex restore marital harmony?” Couples are putting this hypothesis to the test on Lifetime’s television series 7 Days of Sex (watch it here). Each episode follows two “distressed” couples over a period of seven days during which partners commit to having sex every day.
Prior to being on the show, many of the couples reported having sex only once or twice a month. Couples often said they became less satisfied with their marriages after having children or falling helplessly into the routine of daily life. They described a range of reasons for the lack of sexual passion in their relationships, such as decreased flirting and playfulness, less time for fun and enjoying each other’s company, the expense of romantic evenings out, and becoming too comfortable with each other and no longer trying to be sexy.
After a week of making efforts to restore their passion by having sex every day, the couples renewed their vows in front of friends, family, and television viewers. Only one couple has missed a single day of sex so far in the current season and every couple has stayed together at the end of their week. Thus, the show certainly makes it seem like the intervention was successful for every participating couple.
Even though the results of everyday coitus seem highly effective on TV, what does science say? Can sex really save a marriage?
In one study, researchers analyzed data from over 13,000 people taken from the National Survey of Families and Households conducted between 1987 and 1988 to investigate the outcomes associated with sexually inactive marriages. In about 16% of the marriages spouses reported not having had sex for at least one month prior to the time of the interview. Although sexual inactivity was more common as individuals and their marriages aged, marital unhappiness and the probability of separation were also highly correlated with a lack of sexual intimacy. These couples also tended to spend very little leisure time together. Additionally, couples with young children were more likely to experience a lack of sexual intimacy because children take energy and attention and lessen the amount of time partners spends together. In short, in this study, sexually inactive marriages were not happy or stable marriages. However, it should be noted that although there was a high correlation between sexual satisfaction and overall relationship quality, this study does not conclusively show whether the loss of marital satisfaction causes a withdrawal from sexual intimacy or whether a lack of sex causes marital dissatisfaction.1
Such findings beg the question: Can revamping your sex life really save a marriage from divorce? Results from an 18-month longitudinal study2 indicate that sexual satisfaction and relationship quality are linked, possibly because of the role of enhanced communication between partners. Couples who communicate well in the sack also are able to talk outside of the bedroom. In addition, a wealth of research has shown that engaging in novel and physically active and arousing activities with a partner can increase relationship satisfaction,3 so it’s no wonder that sex could have beneficial effects on a relationship. For example, during the week, husbands and wives on 7 Days of Sex make time for formal dinners without their children, venture out together on a camping trip or other fun getaway, and even step out of their comfort zone to attend a sex seminar or shop for sex toys together. In a way, they restore a sense of courtship and experimentation together (and have regularly scheduled coitus!).
Although we’re not claiming that sex can solve all the problems in a broken relationship, the producers of 7 Days of Sex might be onto something. Sex, along with lots of other relationship dynamics (like emotional intimacy, communication, trust, commitment, etc.), is an important part of ongoing, long-term relationships, and shouldn’t be neglected.
1Donnelly, D. A. (1993). Sexually inactive marriages. The Journal of Sex Research, 30, 171-179.
2Byers, E. S. (2005). Relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction: A longitudinal study of individuals in long-term relationships. The Journal of Sex Research, 42, 113-118.
3Aron, A., & Aron, E. N. (1997). Self-expansion motivation and including other in the self. In S. Duck (Ed.), Handbook of personal relationships: Theory, research, and interventions (2nd ed., pp. 251-270). London: John Wiley & Sons.
Jennifer Shukusky - Website
Jennifer is a Master's student at Rutgers University - Camden and her research focuses on sexual behaviors in relationships, including dating, friends with benefits, and hook-ups. She is also interested in attachment and hook-ups, and works in Dr. Charlotte Markey's lab studying relationships and health.
Dr. Benjamin Le - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le's research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.