Many couples fail to maintain sexual desire in their long-term relationships. Two people who once could not keep their hands off each other gradually lose interest in having sex, at least with their current partner. What distinguishes couples who experience passionate long-term relationships from those who fail to sustain the passion? Are there effective strategies to prevent against the waning of sexual desire in long-term relationships?
A study1 published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology seeks to answer those questions. Researchers from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, the University of Rochester, and Cornell Tech collaborated on three studies to observe couples' expressions of responsiveness and sexual desire. People often say that they have sex because they wish to feel understood and cared for and that a partner who is responsive to their needs would arouse their sexual interest. However, previous research has not provided conclusive evidence for whether an increased sense of intimacy actually promotes (or undermines) sexual desire. In this context, intimacy consists of feelings of understanding, closeness, and connectedness and involves mutual expression of affection, warmth, and caring.2
Indeed, some scholars have noted the intimacy-desire paradox, which indicates that high levels of intimacy may inhibit rather than increase sexual desire. These scholars have argued that the core of this paradox lies in the contradiction between the intimate and familiar relationships that many people strive for and the limitations of such familiar bonds for enhancing desire. In particular, the need for security that intimacy typically provides may clash with the sense of uncertainty, novelty, and separateness that fuels desire, such that high levels of intimacy between partners may stifle sexual desire.