Sexual Intimacy in Marriage

Your Quick Guide to Relationship Success
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Your Quick Guide to Relationship Success
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Sexual intimacy in marriage is but one type of intimacy that leads to marital satisfaction. In his book, Enhancing Intimacy in Marriage: A Clinician's Guide, Dr. Dennis A. Bagarozzi (1) identifies at least nine sub-components of intimacy, such as emotional intimacy, spiritual intimacy, and recreational intimacy.

However, he gives special consideration to sexual intimacy.

Steven M Cohn, PhD, LMFT
The Portland Couples Counseling Center
1940 NE Broadway
Portland, Oregon  97232

Happy couple

Sexual intimacy in marriage includes a frequency with which both partners are satisfied, sexual activities enjoyed by both partners, and the ability to talk openly about sex. A study done by Olson and Olson(2) showed that one of the major contributors to marital happiness is the quality of the sexual relationship. They found that the most common concern that affected sexual intimacy in marriage was that the partners had differing levels of interest in sex. They also note that more than half of all married couples have trouble discussing sexual issues.

For some, the first step to increasing intimacy in marriage is to make sure you understand your partner's love language. The book The Five Love Languages suggests there are at five different languages: affirming language, quality time, gift giving, acts of service, and physical touch. If you and your spouse speak different languages, you might have a difficult time achieving a fulfilling sex life in your marriage. For example, if a wife shows love by complimenting her husband, but he shows his love to his wife by physical touch, neither of them may feel they are receiving loving messages from the other. It is almost as if one is speaking in German, the other in Japanese, and neither understands the other's language.

There are many things you can do to improve your marriage. For one thing, you can ask your spouse about his or her love language. Ask him what makes him feel most loved. This eliminates the need for you to guess about whether he is speaking Japanese, Chinese, or even Greek. By asking, you get an instant translation dictionary. Return the favor by telling your spouse what it takes for you to feel you are loved.

Please remember that you are not alone in having problems with sexual intimacy in marriage. One national study(3) showed that over 80% of American marriages have had a sexual problem at one time or another. Although it may be awkward at first, talking to a Relationship Specialist is the best way to work through your issues and create a better sense of sexual intimacy in marriage.

In a book due out in 2009, Deal and Olson (4) recommends taking several steps to enhance your sexual intimacy in marriage:

  •  Realize that sex is a gift, not a right. Give the best of your self to your partner.
  • Take responsibility for your own pleasure. Don't expect your partner to read your mind.
  • Be flexible. Try new things rather than sticking to the same thing you've always done.
  • Be playful. Let yourself go.
  • Take care of problems that reduce your sexual desire, such as getting enough rest and exercise.


(1) Bagarozzi, Dennis A. Enhancing Intimacy in Marriage: A Clinician's Guide. New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2001.

(2) Olson, D.H., & Olson, A.K. Empowering couples: Building On Your Strengths. Minneapolis: Life Innovations, Inc., 2000.

(3) Moreira, E.D., Brock, G., Glasser, D. B., Nicolosi, A., Laumann, E.O., Paik, A., et al. Help-seeking behavior for sexual problems: the global study of sexual attitudes and behaviors. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 2005, 59 (1), 6 - 16.

(4) Deal, Ron L. and Olson, David H. The Remarriage Couple Checkup. Thomas Nelson, (due out in 2009).

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