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The Link Between Emotional Safety and Sexual Satisfaction

Be honest, how emotionally safe do you feel in your relationship? Many people tend to focus on whether their partner fits their standards or if they are compatible, share the same values, and other things along those lines. 

While shared values and being compatible do matter in the relationship, the latest research in neurobiology shows that one of the most important metrics of a happy, healthy, and loving relationship is emotional safety. It’s also key for a satisfying sex life. 

So, let’s look at the definition of emotional safety in relationships, what’s the connection between emotional safety and sex, and how you can deepen your sense of safety in your relationships. 

Defining Emotional Safety in a Relationship

First of all, let’s define what it means to feel safe in a relationship. Of course, different people will have different needs for what helps them feel safe and secure with their partner, but there are five key pillars of emotional safety:

  • Trust: you and your partner both trust each other that you won’t hurt (physically or emotionally) or betray each other on purpose.
  • Honesty: you and your partner can be honest about your feelings and emotions, and you can truly be your unique self without having to wear masks or hold back. 
  • Vulnerability: you and your partner can both confide in each other about your fears, weaknesses, and other uncomfortable things without the fear of the other person using that information to hurt you.
  • Emotional availability: you and your partner both feel like you are heard, seen, and understood in your relationship. Your needs and wants are valid and your partner is willing to fulfill them.
  • Acceptance: you and your partner both accept each other for who you are, with all the flaws and imperfections, without trying to change each other into someone you don’t want to be.

Being able to feel emotionally safe with your partner helps build a deep, and loving relationship. 

The Relationship Between Emotional Safety and Desire 

Feeling safe with your partner is a key ingredient for couples to enjoy sexual exploration. Couples who reported low scores on safety in their relationships had difficulties with erotic exploration. 

These findings make sense if we consider what’s essential for having satisfying partnered sex. “To experience pleasure requires letting our guard down, communicating authentically, and, literally and figuratively, letting someone else in. We simply can’t do this without safety,” explains Human Sexuality Professor at the University of Washington and author, Dr. Nicole McNichols

When Professor Gert Holstege at the University of Groningen studied heterosexual couples and their orgasms, he accidentally discovered that wearing socks during sex improves people’s chances of climaxing. One of the hypotheses why socks during sex worked for people was that warm feet create comfort, and that increases people’s chances of having an orgasm.

And comfort is part of feeling safe, and can be something that’s essential for certain people to fully enjoy sex. “When you want to make love to a woman, you must give her the feeling of being protected,” Holstege told BBC. 

While these findings tell us that feeling safe and secure with your partner means more satisfying sex, that’s not the full picture. It’s no secret that couples in long-term relationships experience a decline in sexual desire. While they love their partner and have a deep connection, they simply don’t feel excited to have sex with them – this phenomenon is called the Coolidge Effect

“From the moment we are born, we straddle two sets of contradicting needs: the need for security and the need for freedom,” explains world-renowned psychologist Esther Perel. According to her, emotional security and deep intimacy don’t guarantee great sex.

There is also plenty of evidence that shows that our sexual desire is fired up not by feeling safe with our partners, but quite the contrary. In The Science of Trust, relationship researcher John M. Gottman describes women in abusive relationships, who said that the best sex they had followed right after acts of violence. 

Researcher Emily Nagoski explains that some people experience the best sex of their lives in unstable relationships and abusive partners where they lack emotional security because when the relationship is threatened, it activates our attachment system, which is programmed to make sure we remain attached to our partners. 

“When we are threatened, we do whatever it takes to hold on to them because there are no higher stakes than our connection with our attachment objects,” she writes in her book, Come As You Are

You might ask yourself – so, which is it then? Does emotional security and a close bond guarantee good sex or is it the exact opposite? Well, according to Nagoski, “the key is to be ‘just safe enough.'” Feeling safe and supported in a relationship, while still retaining the sense of separateness is the perfect spot for a loving relationship and great sex life. 

How To Cultivate Safety in a Relationship

If you want to build a secure and loving relationship with your partner, while still having mindblowing sex, then we have some tips that can help you deepen your bond, while still allowing you to retain enough space in your relationship so you can foster healthy eroticism. 

1. Set Boundaries 

It’s normal and healthy for both partners in a relationship to have boundaries. You should respect your partner’s boundaries, and they should respect yours. So, create a safe space within your relationship where you and your partner can feel comfortable setting boundaries where needed.

2. Be Honest 

It can be hard to communicate your thoughts and feelings, especially if you have an insecure attachment style or past relationship trauma. But it’s an essential step towards building a deep and loving relationship. So, try to be honest about how you feel, and what you think with your partner and try to create a space where they can feel comfortable doing the same. 

3. Be Intentional 

When your partner talks, listen. When they show you something or share something with you, pay attention. Small details like that can make all the difference in romantic relationships. Also, be intentional with your affection, and make sure you and your partner are showing each other that both of your feelings, thoughts and needs matter. 

4. Work as a Team

When you encounter a conflict (which will happen sooner or later), the key is to acknowledge that it’s not you against your partner, but you both as a team against the problem. So, avoid blaming your partner, or generalizing their behavior, and try to find a way to approach all conflicts as a team.