Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who wanted to know whether the quality of the sex you have depends upon how you feel about your partner.
I have often heard sex is better with someone you love, always from people who have had many sexual partners, so I am wondering is sex really more pleasurable with someone you love?
Great question! The research I’ve seen has pretty consistently found that people in committed, romantic relationships report being more sexually satisfied than people who are in casual (i.e., non-romantic) relationships. For example, I recently published a study comparing the sex lives of people in romantic relationships to people who had a “friends with benefits” relationship . On average, people in both types of relationships reported being sexually satisfied; however, levels of satisfaction were significantly higher among those who were in romances. This tells us that sex with a casual partner can still be very good and enjoyable—but people seem to think sex is even a little better with a romantic partner. What accounts for this difference? In our research, we found that romantic partners had better sexual communication than friends with benefits. Specifically, romantic partners were more likely to report discussing their sexual needs and desires with their partners, which may have ultimately led to more satisfying sexual experiences.
One other bit of data that’s particularly relevant to your question is research looking at people’s likelihood of experiencing orgasm in different types of relationships. What this research has found is that men pretty consistently experience orgasm regardless of relationship type. Specifically, 94% of men in dating relationships report that they always or usually orgasm with their partner, compared to 95% of men in marital relationships . For women, however, there’s a different story. Among women in dating relationships, 62% report that they always or usually orgasm with their partner. In contrast, among married women, the number jumps to 75% .
Again, this is likely a function of better sexual communication as relationship intimacy increases. However, it’s probably also partly a result of partner-specific learning. In other words, with more sexual experience, women’s partners may learn better how to sexually satisfy them, which is important because different women experience different routes to orgasm. Another piece of evidence consistent with this idea is research finding that the more sexual hookups a woman has had with the same partner, the more likely she is to experience orgasm with that partner .
In short, it does seem to be the case that people who love their partners have somewhat more satisfying sex and, at least among women, more consistent experiences with orgasm. Again, however, this isn’t to say that casual sex is bad or that people shouldn't do it—people still report that casual sex is pretty satisfying, just not quite as satisfying as sex with a romantic partner.
For past Sex Question Friday posts, see here. Want to learn more about The Psychology of Human Sexuality? Click here for a complete list of articles or like the Facebook page to get articles delivered to your newsfeed.
 Lehmiller, J. J., VanderDrift, L. E., &
Kelly, J. R. (in press). Sexual communication, satisfaction, and condom use
behavior in friends with benefits and romantic partners. The Journal of Sex Research.
 Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J., Michael, R., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Armstrong, E. A., England, P., & Fogarty, A. C. K. (2012). Accounting for women’s orgasm and sexual enjoyment in college hookups and relationships. American Sociological Review, 77, 435-462.
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