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Sex as a Duty in Romantic Relationships

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If you are in a romantic, long-term relationship, do you think each person has a responsibility, or even duty, to his or her partner to engage in sex?

There are many factors that can impact one's sense of obligation to have sex, along a varied continuum, including a person's ability to have sex (due to medical conditions, for instance), or, if a history of infidelity has clouded the relationship. Other factors can more simply be to lack of time, fatigue, or even lack of interest.

If we can look at both sides of this situation, if one person does not feel emotionally connected to their partner, and does not want to share another part of themselves without first resolving the emotional conflict, do you feel that there is still a responsibility of having sex to stay committed?

As two people have committed to each other romantically--mind, body and spirit-- and have made it known that they are more than just platonic friends, many people think this commitment does include sexual relations. In a recent survey, 30 percent of respondents thought that sexual activity is a duty to one's spouse/partner. (AARP, 2004).

Conversely, do you want someone to have sex because they are simply obligated? Would you still feel betrayed if sex was a checklist item on a "to do" list, rather than an act of showing affection? Do we always have sex in a relationship out of pure love, or do we sometimes just do it---to get it over with? (I am not just referring to women, as there is still a widespread stereotype that men are always in the mood for sex! Have you ever considered your male partner may not have always been in the mood for sex?)

There are many reasons that a person may not want to have sex at a particular moment; there are also many couples who choose not to have intercourse for various reasons, and choose to be physically intimate in other ways. Some individuals may view sex as essential to a relationship as trust, communication and love; others may view it as not necessary and feel mutually satisfied enjoying intimate moments in other ways.

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HERWriter Guide

Hi Alison

What a great article!

No-one of us like the word "duty" but yes, if we want to put it that way, then I do think that sex is part "of the deal".

However, if there are emotional or other issues that can make someone really object to the notion of having sex with their partner (for example; reasonably suspected infidelity, addiction, abuse etc) then no, they are not 'obliged' to have sex because their partner is also not fulfilling their part of the 'deal' either.

It sounds kind of cold but anyone in a long term relationship or marriage knows that there is give and take, negotiation and compromise in marriage. It's just a fact. Unless perhaps, you are living in a carefree, financially secure and kid-free environment and that's not many of us. Sex should not be 'bargained' - that's kind of demeaning all 'round and nor should it be an ultimatum. But if both parties aren't fully invested, then why should one person accept being used as a "pin cushion" (as one of our readers recently put it) when her partner is using her for sex and not being a good partner in all other aspects?

I think age matters too. I'm in no way saying sex is only for the young, but if a couple in their late 60s or 70s (and beyond) are BOTH happy to sleep in the same bed (but not having sex) and living out their partnerships/marriages sans sex then that's ok too, as long as it's ok with both, and many times it is. We don't all have to give up sex even when we're in our 80s, but we don't have to swing from the chandeliers either!

I am surprised at the truth that many women really do stop performing oral sex once they get married or after a few years. Now that's a really unfair bait and switch! The same with men. I think all partners should enjoy a good sex life (and quality is FAR more important than quantity - who wants some daily jackhammer when a weekly hot session is in the offing?) and when one suddenly drops out - then yes, I think they have some explaining to do. It's not fair on their spouse and they should make an effort to regain their momentum. I also think it's great to change things up - different rooms, toys, movies...whatever works. Sex evolves in every relationship, like everything else.

(Obviously, health issues are not being considered here, that's a different ball game. )

Thanks for these great questions!


October 25, 2010 - 11:50am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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