Category Archives: Sex

The Art and Science of Non-Sexual Touch

I obviously work with a lot of couples who are dissatisfied sexually.   As such, I find myself writing frequently about sex.  Like here.   Also here and here

One thing I haven’t written about before – and probably should have – is the importance of non-sexual touch in a relationship.  

While there are no quick fixes and no single road map that fits every couple (that’s why all the work we do at The Marriage Place is customized to the couple), you might be surprised at how often I ask couples that are struggling in the bedroom to first focus on activities outside of the bedroom.

Non-Sexual Touching

One of the things I teach my clients is to be deliberate about increasing non-sexual touch.

What tends to happen within a couple – especially a couple where the partners have distinctly different sex drives (which is most couples, by the way) – is that the lower desire spouse will quit touching the higher desire spouse because any touch is interpreted as an invitation for sex.  

Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. Your husband walks by you in the kitchen, gently pats your backside, and your brain goes straight to “He’s expecting sex tonight”.  Or husbands, your wife puts her hand on your arm as she’s asking a question and it translates to “I’m going to get lucky!”  Invariably, one or both partners in these situations end up frustrated or resentful.

Why Non-Sexual Touch is Important

Touching without the expectation of sex can be a deep bonding experience. It builds a level of trust otherwise missing from the relationship, which in turn, enhances the couple’s sexual relationship as well.

Touching without the expectation of sex can be a deeply bonding experience and build a level of trust otherwise missing from the relationship. Click To Tweet

When couples quit touching, hugging, and kissing except as a prelude to sex, the passion in the relationship usually dies. In fact, I can often gauge a couple’s sex life before they tell me anything about it, simply by how much they touch each other in a non-sexual way.

What Non-Sexual Touch Looks Like

Non-sexual touching can be holding hands or cuddling during a movie or just sitting close enough to each other that you are touching arms or legs.

Really, it can be any touch that you both agree is not intended to lead to sex.

The list of options is limitless, but here are a couple of purposeful ones if you are looking to be intentional.

The 3-Minute Hug

It’s as simple as it sounds.  Hug your partner (we’re talking full body hug) for 3 straight minutes.  You can even set a timer.  I’ll warn you though – 3 minutes can feel like forever, especially if this is the first time. So if needed, start with just one minute and work up to it.

Occasionally I’ll have my clients hug during a session.  If I were to video you’d notice a few things. First, couples often start out in a stiff awkward embrace. Their eyes jump around looking for distraction and at least one will glance at me with that “How much time is left?” look. But as the seconds tick off, I start to see some changes. Both partners will shift to get comfortable. Their bodies relax, often kind of melting together.  Their breathing slows and begins to regulate, even to the point where they may breathe in unison.  All in a matter of 3 minutes.  

 The 30-Second Kiss

Most couples typically kiss for just a split second at a time.  It’s the quick peck as you are leaving for work or the greeting when you get home in the evening.  

What if you kissed your partner for a solid 30 seconds each day?

30 seconds isn’t that long, but an intentional half a minute of kissing will feel like much longer (You can thank me later). It’s long enough that you can’t fake it and you are forced to connect with each other.  In fact, it’s nearly impossible to kiss that long and not feel closer to your partner.  

 The Science Behind it

Physical contact like hugging and kissing causes your body to release endorphins and oxytocin. Endorphins are the natural “feel-good” chemicals we all have that reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Oxytocin is known as the “bonding hormone.”  Our skin has receptors that stimulate our brain to produce more of these chemicals. So more hugging & kissing = more endorphins & oxytocin = more happiness, less anxiety, and more physical intimacy.  

Now this, by itself, does not guarantee more or better sex.   I can tell you this though – show me a couple with limited (or no) non-sexual physical intimacy, and I’ll show you a couple that is also struggling in the bedroom. The two are connected.

In case you haven’t noticed, none of this work can begin without open, honest, direct dialogue with your partner.  If you aren’t having those now on other topics, starting with sex may be awkward.  Really awkward.  But that’s okay.  Do it anyway!  If you need help getting started, you can schedule an appointment online or simply call us.

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How Much Sex Should I Be Having?


“My wife never wants to have sex”

“In 20 years of marriage we’ve only had sex a dozen times”

“My husband never seems satisfied. I’m exhausted!”

“My friend tells me sex 2-3 times per week is normal for them.”

“I’m just not interested in sex”

“We have sex daily and we are so happy!”

As a marriage counselor, I have heard all of these and more from my clients.

Sex tends to be a primary area of conflict in marriage. In fact, it’s one of the big three – finances, family and sex – that create discord in a relationship. Odds are, you’re reading this because sex is something that you and your spouse argue over too. Or, you don’t argue and it’s the big elephant in the room.

How much sex do I need to be happy?

A 2015 study from the University of Toronto Mississauga examined 30,000 American couples over a 40-year period. These couples covered nearly every age bracket, income bracket, ethnicity and marital status. The study discovered that having sex once per week resulted in happier relationships than those who have sex less often.

However, interestingly, the study also found that having sex more than once a week did not further increase marital satisfaction.

Before you run to your spouse with this information…

Approaching your spouse with demands for more – or less – sex based on this study will not improve your sex life. Or your relationship. In fact, it will likely set you back. Trust me on this.

Sex in your marriage should not be based on a statistic. It’s not about averages or the “norm”. It’s about finding the right frequency where each of you feels their wants and needs are being met. It takes lots of work to find the right balance. A lot more work than it does to find the right article or statistic to make your case.

But I’m not having enough sex

The tendency is to focus on what your spouse is or isn’t doing. Don’t. Turn your focus inward. How has your disappointment with your sexual relationship impacted what you give to your spouse outside the bedroom? What emotional needs are going unmet or even uncommunicated? What does your spouse need from you?

Ask him/her! And then consider involving a therapist who can help you both make the changes in your relationship necessary to improve your sex life.

So, does happiness = sex or does sex = happiness?

Good question! Does weekly sex produce more marital bliss or does marital bliss lead to the weekly sex?

I think the answer lies in whether you see sex as the solution to your happiness or the barometer of your happiness in the relationship.

The answer here isn’t an easy one, but I believe sex is more the barometer. Sex – no matter the frequency – does not guarantee you a happy marriage. But I can tell you that when the sex is missing or infrequent, it always means something else is off in the relationship.

The key to good sex

Society tries to sell us on what good sex looks like. We are bombarded with messages that focus on perfect bodies. On passion and intensity. And it’s worked. Pornography is now a $3.3 billion industry. The sex that society sells us is glossy and visually striking, like a magazine ad. But it’s as deep as the page it’s printed on. It robs us of true intimacy and connection.

A real-life quality sex life is built on that connection. Connection comes from all the work you do outside of the bedroom. If you want more sex, or simply wish you wanted sex as often as your spouse does, focus on your activity outside of the bedroom! Seriously!

Sex is a touchy subject (pun intended) but it’s too important to your relationship not to discuss openly. We can help you do that. Give us a call or schedule an appointment online now.

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