What if sex physically works well–but afterwards you just feel distant from one another?

This month on the blog I’m going a “number of the day” series, and I meant to put this post up on Wednesday but the blog was all glitchy that day when we were switching to other servers so I decided to put it up today.

As most of you know, for The Great Sex Rescue, we surveyed 20,000 women, finding all kinds of neat tidbits of information about women’s marital and sexual satisfaction. 

Well, we’ve since followed that up with our survey of 3,000 men, and it’s all releasing in our new book The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and our totally revamped Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex! And you can pre-order them now. 

One of the big points we’re making in The Good Guy’s Guide and Good Girl’s Guide is that sex is more than physical.

Indeed, the books are divided up into three sections: Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual intimacy. How does each play a role in the bedroom? 

I thought that to illustrate how important the threefold nature of sex is, I’d share with you two numbers today–the percentage of women who orgasm frequently but don’t feel close during sex, and the percentage of men who do. 

How Many Women Orgasm But Don’t Feel Close During Sex:


How Many Men Orgasm But Don’t Feel Close During Sex:


Yes, it is true that women especially tend to reach orgasm much more easily when they feel close to their husbands. 

Emotional intimacy tends to fuel physical response. For women especially it’s difficult to relax during sex if you feel distant from your husband, and if you can’t relax, it’s difficult to get aroused.

But that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. Some women are just very physically responsive, and most men are physically responsive. So the physical and the emotional don’t always work in tandem.

What happens when people orgasm but don’t feel emotionally close?

It’s actually worse for the marriage than the other way around. Like other studies, we found that marital satisfaction had a big impact on sexual satisfaction, but when we teased this out in focus groups and looked at other peer reviewed research, it’s clear that the association wasn’t as true the other way around.  (It’s very difficult to tease out which direction causation goes, so we looked at a number of different tools to figure it out!).

So we’re looking at roughly 20% of couples where at least one person is physically enjoying sex, but it isn’t bringing them closer together.

And if sex is meant to be mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both, and it’s missing the intimacy–then something is going to feel off with everything.

Here’s how I described it: 

Sex is ultimately a longing, a passion, a deep desire for connec- tion. God created in each of us a longing for intimate connection with him, and he made us long for each other in the same way, to mirror how he feels about us.

Let me put it this way: billions of people have had sex. I am not sure how many have actually made love. To have sex is simply to do the physical act. To make love is to connect on many other levels as well, which is exactly what God made sex for. He made it to help us truly “know” each other, in every sense of the word. He wants us to know each other physically, to memorize each other’s curves and freckles and scents and likes and dislikes. He wants us to know what our spouse yearns for and what makes our spouse uncomfortable. But he also wants us to know our spouse’s heart, mind, and soul. He wants us to be joined. That can happen only in an intimate, committed relationship, which is why people can have sex with many but can make love to only one.

Unfortunately, too many people don’t even realize they’re miss- ing out on the best. When my oldest daughter was four, we attended a playgroup every day. One day the woman in charge asked the children, “What’s your favorite food?” All the preschoolers offered variants of macaroni and cheese, ice cream, or hot dogs until one little girl, Victoria, shouted out, “Lobster!” Her father owned a gour- met restaurant, and she frequently dined on leftover lobster. She didn’t know what macaroni and cheese tasted like. The other kids, though, were equally ignorant of lobster. They thought mac and cheese was scrumptious because it was the best of their experience. I suspect that many women settle for mac and cheese and miss out on delicacies because they don’t know how great sex can be.

Listen to what one respondent to our sex and marriage survey reported: “I wish I had known that it really takes trust, commit- ment, and more trust to have a fulfilling sexual relationship. I never reached real fulfillment until I had all the above plus intimacy.”

Sheila Wray Gregoire

The New and Revised Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

So what do you do if sex feels empty?

Talk about it! Get to the bottom of it. 

  • Is it because one or both of you have a pornified view of sex, and sex is about using each other, rather than “knowing” each other?
  • Is it because one of you is selfish in bed and doesn’t think of the other?
  • Is it because you aren’t communicating in other aspects of your relationship, and this is the only time you connect, so there is so much unspoken that to do something so intimate leaves you feeling the big dichotomy between the reality of your emotional connection?

Get rid of any porn use, and say, “no more!” Put up clear boundaries, and get help where you need it.

Get counseling if you need to work through more relationship issues.

And then work at re-establishing intimacy before and during sex. Share your hearts with each other. Everyday, make it a habit to share with each other the time you felt most in the groove today, and the time you felt the most defeated. Get an insight into each other’s emotional state.

And then, when you are having sex, look into each other’s eyes. Say each other’s names. Make it more personal.

Obviously, that’s simplified, and this isn’t a fast process. We do have lots in The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex to help guide you through this. 

The All New Guides to Great Sex!

Available now!

Imagine building a great sex life--from the ground up!

What would it look like to build a picture of sex that was MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE FOR BOTH--with no harmful messages?

Welcome to the The Good Guy's Guide to Great Sex and the ALL NEW Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex.

Get them NOW!

And let's make these the go-to wedding shower gifts!

But the big thing I want you all to remember is that “intimacy” and “sex” are not necessarily synonyms. 

Just because you are having intercourse does not mean that you’re feeling close or that it’s intimate. And in a way, there is nothing more lonely that having physically great sex with someone that you feel very distant from. The stark dichotomy is just too much.

So if you’re feeling empty, take that as a sign that there is work to do. Don’t just keep having sex because sex is supposed to fix things. It won’t, because the problem isn’t with sex. Sex is not the cure-all for relationship issues. Instead, look outside the bedroom and deal with whatever is hindering you.

Because it isn’t okay for your sex life to leave you empty! And in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, I hope we can point you to ways to talk about this, and to places where you can get help if more is needed. 

Sex Feels Great But Leaves You Empty

What do you think? Have you ever experienced that non-concordance when sex makes you distant? 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 marriage. 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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