Which Comes First, Sex or Friendship? The Chicken and the Egg in Marriage

by | Mar 23, 2021 | Uncategorized | 8 comments

Sex and Friendship: The Chicken and the Egg in Marriage
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Sex and friendship in marriage can be a lot like the chicken and the egg.

Do you have sex to build friendship, or does building friendship lead to more sex.

The answer? Yes.

Yes to both.

That’s what we found in our survey results for The Great Sex Rescue, as Joanna talked briefly about in her segment on the Bare Marriage podcast last week about orgasms. Marital satisfaction and sexual satisfaction are closely linked.

Today I wanted to pull out just a few of our results and point you to THREE quick things that are important to know about this chicken and egg phenomenon. So let’s jump in!

Point 1: Great sex and a great marriage do go hand in hand.

We definitely found that people with strong marriages tend to have better sex. Women in the top 20% of marital satisfaction were four times more likely to reliably orgasm than women in the bottom 20%! And when women feel that their opinions matter in marriage just as much as his do, they’re roughly 7 times more likely to say he does enough foreplay and roughly 4 times more likely to say that she feels comfortable talking to him about what she wants in bed (plus a ton of other findings that are in a pretty chart in The Great Sex Rescue!). But you can also read those results the other way–when she feels comfortable telling  him what she wants in bed, she’s also more likely to say that her opinion matters in marriage!

We definitely found that people with great sex lives tend to have great marriages–and people with great marriages tend to have great sex lives! They go hand in hand, because sex is not only physical. It’s also about emotional and spiritual connection. When you feel as if you have that outside the bedroom, then inside the bedroom is more likely to rock!

And then, when the bedroom does rock, you build this sense of closeness, like “we’re in this together”, and that, in turn, feeds your marriage.

For sex to feel intimate, it needs to be about saying, “I want you,” not just “I want sex.” It needs to be about saying, “I see you. I choose you. I want to experience something with you, and only you. I want to know you better.” 

You is the key word. You are the focus. Sex is not just about me; it’s about me knowing you and building us

The Great Sex Rescue, p. 22


Point 2: Sex can smooth over problems and help healthy couples feel close, but it cannot fix a bad relationship.

However, when we talked with our focus groups and did interviews, and reviewed other research, it’s clear that a great marriage can help build a great sex life, but a great sex life can’t fix a bad marriage. When you work on your marriage, and work on your communication, and help each other feel valued, sex will tend to get better. When you build better sex, you don’t necessarily grow a better marriage.

You can smooth over problems, though. You can help build goodwill in the marriage so that it’s easier to tackle small communication issues, or bring up issues that might be bugging you (I’d love it if you’d give me more of a hand with the kids at night rather than sitting in front of a screen; I’d love to spend time on the weekends doing something fun instead of always hanging out with your mom). When you have that foundation that says, “I like having fun with you and experiencing this with you together,” then you solidify that relationship and you can talk about things.

In fact, sex can be a shortcut to rebuild closeness when there’s been tension. How many times have you been picking at each other all day, and then you make love at night, and you just sigh this comfortable sigh of relief and snuggle in each other’s arms, and all is forgotten? It’s like a way of saying, “It’s okay. We really are good.”

But if you’re not really able to talk outside the bedroom, or if your marriage is marred by some major issues, sex can’t fix it. And, in fact, if the problems are big enough, having sex can prolong those problems, because when you do have sex, you tell your spouse, “we’re okay. We’re together. We’re on the same page.” So if you’re regularly having sex with someone who is wounding you emotionally or betraying you, you actually tell them, “this behaviour of yours is actually acceptable.” What we found in many interviews and emails is that spouses often didn’t take a big, marriage endangering problem seriously until the sex stopped.

(That’s not saying that you should stop having sex whenever something is bugging you, but in cases of porn use, addictions, or any form of abuse, having sex can solidify the issue).

Point 3: Frequency matters less than sexual quality when it comes to building the relationship.

Sex where she doesn’t orgasm and where she doesn’t feel particularly emotionally close to him during sex is not going to build the relationship in the long term. In fact, if she keeps having sex with him when she’s not orgasming and when she’s not feeling particularly close, and you may find that in a decade or two she just gives up on sex altogether. In fact, you’re 7 times more likely to end up in a sexless marriage!

If he doesn’t spend enough time on foreplay she’s twelve times less likely to say that he makes her pleasure a priority. When she feels as if her pleasure doesn’t matter to her husband, she’s far less likely to feel emotionally close during sex.

At the same time, when she feels as if sex is about them together, and it isn’t only about him, she’s five times more likely to reliably orgasm.

When she has really bad sex where she feels as if her pleasure is not a priority, she feels more emotionally distant, not less. So if sex is going to build your friendship, it has to be good sex! Intercourse alone doesn’t do it.

Okay…so which is it? The chicken of the egg?

After all of that, I’d say that in relatively healthy marriages, where you have regular disagreements–have sex as much as you can and make it awesome! It’s a great way to invest in the relationship, keep that relationship strong, and keep you feeling happy and cherished. Couples who have frequent sex that’s awesome also tend to build marriages that are awesome. And that feeling of closeness in the bedroom does transfer outside of the bedroom!

But make sure it’s REAL sex, not just one-sided intercourse. Sex biblically is supposed to be INTIMATE, PLEASURABLE, and MUTUAL–it’s not just about “doing the deed”. It’s about both of you together. If you’re not receiving much pleasure from sex, check out The Orgasm Course!

The Orgasm Course is Here to Help You Experience Real Passion!

Figure out what’s holding you back. Open the floodgates to orgasm.

And finally, if there are big issues in your marriage, then deal with those issues, don’t expect sex to fix them. Often we’re told that having more sex is a magic elixir that makes everything better, but that’s not necessarily true. For small problems, more frequency is likely a good thing. For big problems, it can actually backfire.

Really, one of our big findings in The Great Sex Rescue is that we use frequency of sex as a measure for good marriages far too often, when frequency of sex is actually a poor measure.

If we concentrated on two different measures–do you feel emotionally close during sex, and does she feel pleasure?–we’d likely get to WHY sex builds friendship, and to the KIND OF SEX that builds friendship, a lot more quickly!

That was actually one of the big messages of our book–that we need a much more nuanced conversation about sex, because too often we think intercourse fixes everything. The truth? Sex can be awesome, and it can be a balm, and it can help build the relationship. But not all sex is the same. So we have to talk about this well. And if you want to join that conversation, then, of course, check out The Great Sex Rescue!

Sex and Friendship: The Chicken and the Egg in Marriage

What do you think? Has having sex ever made you feel closer, even during a period of tension in your marriage? Or has sex made you feel further apart? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. SG

    I prefer “frequency of great sex” ….combination of quality and quantity, not one or the other. 🙂 Having great mutually pleasurable, loving sex, leads to wanting more (obviously life can get in the way, but generally). We have what I would absolutely define as great sex, and I’d be sad if that only happened once a month. If we had sex 5 times a week but it wasn’t good, I’d be sad. I guess part of the greatness is that we enjoy it often, it’s a regular part of our life together… it is part of our friendship.
    My husband takes pleasure in giving me pleasure, every time we are intimate. I never feel less than loved and desired when we have sex. And I do the same for him. Friendship is absolutely the foundation of our sex life, and sex is a fuel in our friendship. But that’s because sex for us isn’t just physical acts. It’s making love, it’s mutual, it’s pursuing and delighting in the other spouse’s pleasure, it’s communication, it’s fun, it’s vulnerable and intimate, it’s refreshing, it’s bonding.
    We’ve been married for over 2 decades and our sex life has only gotten better with time. Because our friendship, our partnership, our knowing each other, our history together and memories made, our maturing, and our love have all grown. The deeper our relationship, the better the sex life. For us, they inexplicably go hand in hand, 2 pieces of a puzzle that make up a successful, happy marriage. We can’t and don’t want to have one without the other.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly! That’s so lovely, and you explained it so well. That’s exactly what it’s supposed to be!

  2. Chris

    “when frequency of sex is actually a poor measure.“ I agree, with an exception. If the frequency is zero, it is a really good measure.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      But even then–the REASON that frequency is 0 is usually a much better window into what is going on than frequency itself. What we found is that sexless marriages don’t just happen, in general. There’s usually a lot going on, including women not orgasming; sexual pain; male sexual dysfunction; relationship issues; and not feeling close during sex. Rarely do sexless marriages happen when women are orgasming; when the marriage is good; when there’s not sexual dysfunction going on. So we really need to look at WHY the relationship is sexless. Sometimes it honestly is just one person’s issue, especially when there’s unhealed trauma. But often it’s about patterns that they settled into when they got married, and addressing those patterns is far more likely to lead to a satisfying sex life and marriage than just telling people, “you need to have sex.”
      If your spouse just refuses sex, I’d really suggest going to a licensed counselor and trying to get to the root of the issue. It isn’t okay–but it’s usually a sign that there’s other stuff going on, and dealing with that other stuff is likely the only thing that’s going to heal the issue. I’m so sorry that you are dealing with this!

  3. Natalie

    It’s definitely both. My husband and I have had a great friendship from the moment we met, and it’s just gotten better with age (along with all the ups and downs). Because of both of our own hang-ups, sex has been a less easy road to navigate. But now, 12 years since we met, we’re finally starting to get the sex part figured out to where it’s good and getting better for both of us, and that’s just taking the friendship and connection and trust and understanding between us to a whole new/deeper level.

  4. Lindsey

    1. Never have sex with someone with whom you don’t even have a friendship.
    2. If you’re married to your best friend, great! Remember that there IS a difference between every other friendship and this one – that difference is sex. So have sex with your best friend.
    3. Be a decent human being that cares about the needs and desires of your spouse, and expect the same from them.
    4. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

  5. David

    For me the fun answer might be “both”, but the truth is without love and friendship being on the top of the list, it really doesn’t matter how great the quality the intimacy is, it is still nothing more than straight sex leaving an empty void.
    The combination of love and friendship with the passionate rawness of being “one” in together takes the quality love-making both emotionally and physically far more fulfilling for both.
    Been awhile since I shared a thought. The last time involved the topic of mutual touch, when I referred the word “caress” and discovered it was a “creepy” buzz word that your daughter proclaimed wasn’t a good word. I backed off because I wasn’t going to critique someone’s thought and besides it’s her blog, not mine. What really matters is my wife of 40 years, uses the word and I like it.
    I can’t stand the acid taste of stewed tomatoes while other’s like it so I get it.
    I know I’m old fashioned in a lot of ways. (I’m 61) I realized I needed to step aside after I shared a conflicting opinion about when 2 people who are on friendly terms and happen to be married (but not to each other) but are mentally or physically attracted to each other who happen to spend a fair amount of time alone, which I felt is risky and could find themselves emotionally vulnerable.
    To a millennial made of steel that might be construed as immature if one can’t handle the “tension”. I however would consider it as immature to not see the danger, no matter how much self control they think they have.

  6. Abi

    “Has sex made you feel further apart?”
    Yes, when for soo long it was so very one sided. For first two years of marriage I would orgasm fine. Then it seemed to descend into one sided, pleasure for him, but not for me. He would ask for hands jobs, etc. I would even offer, as I was trying to be a good wife like all the advice I’d read in the ‘Christian’ books I bought and read.
    He would orgasm and finish and I we left hungry.
    I tried to explain this repetitively. Please don’t come until I do. It’s like going out to dinner to a restaurant together, and you eat your meal, and I don’t get anything, and you don’t seem to notice.
    I realised I was starting to feel very not interested and less than positive about ‘sex’.
    Then my friend helped me to see my husband had been abusive obey many years towards myself and my sons. Verbally, emotionally, physically. To us all. I hadn’t even realised it as I was trying my best to ‘always respect him’ as I’d read and studied in “Love and respect” book. This book steered me so very wrong in my sincere desire to be a good Christian wife.
    I feel so sad, angry, frustrated.
    We’re now separated for the last 4 months.
    Sheila, your writings are the first ones I’ve read that say it’s okay to say no to one’s husband regarding sex. You have helped me realise how this has gone so wrong.
    I pray to Jesus He will help me fix this mess.
    One sided sex has been just awful.
    I have bought all your books, and the orgasm course.
    Sheila, thank you for finally speaking up for women against the stupid, “respect your husband at all times and in all sitiations, and just continue to disrespect yourself” evangelical sex book messages. I am so grateful.


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