TW: childhood sexual abuse (mention), and pregnancy/parenthood/babies.
When I began my sexuality studies as an excited young pup I remember reading, “sex is an important part of a healthy relationship.” Yes! Validation that it is not only worth prioritizing sex in a relationship, but necessary to its success. I took this little sentence and threw it around, loud and proud, to everyone who would listen (and even those who would rather I shut up– such as people who identify as asexual, for example).
Then life happened.
I began struggling with chronic digestive pain. Then endometriosis. Then repeated kidney stones! I started therapy for childhood sexual abuse. Sex as a psychologically and physiologically painful activity became my reality. My lower abdominal world can be a delicate, tired, sore place. Here’s what it taught me:
Even if you’re not asexual, sex does not need to be an important part of a healthy relationship.
I do have sex, it’s not totally out of my life and I have prioritized healing my sexuality and making it my life’s work. As an aspect of my relationship, it has fallen from priority number one to a delightful extra if the stars align. So, when I was asked in an interview, “isn’t sex an important part of a healthy relationship,” I realized that statement was misleading.
Sex can be an important part of a healthy relationship. But that’s not up to me to decide as a sexual health expert. That’s not up to your doctor, therapist, or sex ed teacher. That’s for you to decide. Yes, relationship satisfaction tends to move with sexual satisfaction in a relationship, but I think we may have misunderstood this little statistical finding, or worse, we have inappropriate statistical tools for measuring satisfaction that doesn’t capture what it means for all sexual people or asexual people. Tools aside, I can tell you that my sexual and relationship satisfaction is high even though I don’t prioritize sex in my relationship. Why?
I asked my partner once, “if I decided I couldn’t or didn’t want to have sex anymore for any reason, would you leave me?”
His response: “No! Why would I?”
Because sex is an important part of a healthy relationship!
His response, “But I get so many things out of our relationship. Sex is nice and I like having sex with you, but that’s not the only thing I get out of our relationship and it’s not the deciding factor of being with you.”
I specialize in sex in pregnancy and postpartum as a doula, aromatherapist, and coach. What my partner said reminded me of a study I’d been looking at: guess which couples fared well during the sexual struggles of the postpartum period? Couples whose priorities aligned. Couples that were both okay with sex being off the table for a little while. Or couples who both decided on sacrificing co-sleeping with their baby to have alone time in their bed. What mattered was that couples were on the same page, the page itself was otherwise irrelevant.
My satisfaction is high because my partner and I are on the same page. That means, we’re both happy with our relationship and when we do have sex, it’s damn good sex.
There is nothing wrong with prioritizing sex in your relationship and this will work best if your partners also prioritize sex in the relationship.
There is nothing wrong with not prioritizing sex in your relationship and this will work best if your partners also don’t prioritize sex in the relationship.
When you don’t align, that’s when things can get really tough. Seeking the guidance of a couples and family therapist or sex therapist can be really helpful when the stars are not aligning for sex. Although some therapists and counselors offer sliding scales, not everyone can afford these services. Here is a list of affordable book resources that I have used so far on my personal journey through sexual healing that you may even be able to find at the library. I am currently seeking more LGBTQ+ resources pertaining to this topic as I do not identify as heterosexual or cisgendered, but these are the books I have found so far. The first book is a great read based on cisgendered women’s experiences with various life events that have changed their relationship with sex. The second book is a great resource for how to communicate effectively in relationships – however, it should be noted that the research is based off observations of monogamous heterosexual couples who are struggling with the transition into parenthood. The final book is also based on research with cisgendered women, though I strongly feel everyone would benefit from its good science and worksheet pages:
Sex After… Women Share How Intimacy Changes as Life Changes by Iris Krasnow
And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives by John Gottman & Julie Schwartz Gottman
The next time someone tries to tell you that sex is an important aspect of a healthy relationship, ask yourself: who’s saying it? How does this statement benefit them? What are they trying to sell me? What are they trying to sell themselves? And finally– is sex an important aspect of relationships for me?
Because, really, that’s the answer that matters.
Tynan Rhea works in Toronto as a doula, aromatherapist, and coach specializing in sexual and reproductive health. Tynan graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Joint Honours Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sexuality, Marriage, & Family. She received her doula training from the Revolutionary Doula Training program and her aromatherapy training with Anarres Apothecary Apprenticeship program. You can read more about her at TynanRhea.com, follow her on Instagram and Twitter (@TynanRhea) or check out her blog: queering holistic health (on her website).
This post has been featured as one of Kinkly’s Sex Stories We Love!