• Emotionally Connected Sex

    Let’s consider a fictionalized case study on physical intimacy: Bob and Sarah have several long and difficult days with their kids taking virtual classes at home during the pandemic. Although they have a strong relationship, balancing careers and child care is causing friction — they’ve been a bit disconnected lately.

    Bob hopes to squeeze in some time for physical intimacy after getting the kids into bed that night. But they struggle getting the youngest to sleep and need to get up early in the morning. When Bob reaches for Sarah, she pulls away and says, “Not tonight.”

    Feeling rejected and disappointed, Bob replies, “It’s never the right time.”

    Sarah remains quiet but thinks, “You don’t seem to have time for me the rest of the day, but now you’re interested?”

    Both are upset, and it takes them awhile to get to sleep.

    What went wrong here? We can’t know for sure, but it’s likely that the pandemic prevents them from connecting emotionally throughout the day. Emotional connection is a critical component for maintaining a joyful and fulfilling long-term sexual relationship.

    To understand how this can impact couples, let’s look at the female sexual experience from an evolutionary perspective: Because females are typically smaller and possess less bodily strength than males, evolution has taught women to be more vigilant to help ensure they’re safe in vulnerable situations, including sexual ones. If she feels emotionally uncertain with a partner, those evolutionary alarm bells can go off. Even if the bells are faint, the anxiety that follows can put women in a vigilance mode, rather than the attuned, open, secure place necessary for sexual intimacy. In the case of Sarah, more clear and consistent moments of emotional connection with Bob would likely go a long way in creating an open, secure space for mutually enjoyable sex.

    It’s typically easier for men to engage sexually even if the emotional connection is shaky. And for men who have difficulty connecting emotionally, physical connection can be their primary conduit to emotional connection.

    These are not hard and fast rules, however. For example, while working with couples in therapy, I have heard from a significant amount of men who have also longed for more emotionally engaged sex.

    What’s clear about Bob and Sarah is that the lack of emotional connection is impacting their physical connection. The danger is that this new pattern of disconnection will become more frequent, reactive and entrenched, impacting both their sexual intimacy and their emotional bond.

    One takeaway from this story is that setting aside time, even if brief, to connect emotionally in a positive way before sexual intimacy can go a long way for couples. Those interactions remind us that we’re loved, that we’re important, that we’re safe — and this allows us to be more attuned, connected and “in the moment” with our partners during sex.

    If patterns of sexual conflict or avoidance have become ingrained in your relationship, consider Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy to help restore your emotional connection. Visit CouplesTherapyOrlando.com or call 407-579-2070. We’re here to help.


    Therapy services available via Telehealth.