The Ins and Outs of Sex in Relationships

Sociology professor Nielan Barnes

Sociology professor Nielan Barnes

With Valentine’s Day roaming around, treating that special someone is key to any successful date. Sex might also be one of those gifts that someone might receive on this special day. Sociology professor Nielan Barnes at California State University, Long Beach shares her thoughts about sex on Valentine’s Day and within relationships.

Why do people want sex on Valentine’s Day?

“Honestly, I believe that every day is Valentine’s Day when you’re in a relationship. There’s a lot of social pressure, and often Valentine’s Day has been commercialized, and it applies pressure to treat your loved one special that day. That means buying them something, giving them presents, cooking for them or maybe taking them out and having sex is a part of that. Making them feel special and loved. You want to feel attracted and desired on this very special day, but it’s kind of arbitrary because it’s a consumer holiday. We spend a lot of money on that day, we go out to restaurants on that day and, to be honest, one of the things that’s happened is that there has been a commercialization of sex. And not just sex, but romance as well, because if you are in a relationship, like I said, everyone else is doing it, and everyone is buying something for their loved one… they want you to buy [something for them], and it’s part of the pressure that we all have from society to kind of engage in these commercial activities. So, part of it is that you want to, of course, do what everyone else is doing, and if you… don’t do something nice for them, they feel terrible, and that makes you feel terrible. There’s a lot of pressure, and that’s a shame because when the pressure is on, people don’t tend to perform very well. They get nervous, just generally speaking, and so it can actually be a recipe for disaster on a number of levels. So, make every day Valentine’s Day is what I tell people.”

How do you build a healthy sexual relationship with your partner?

“Communication, honestly. From my experience, off the research is that you really do have to be able to have an open line of communication, and a lot of people have hang-ups around sex and sexuality. Some people even experience sexual abuse or have body image issues, which can interfere with sexual expression. Sometimes talking with your partner — communication — you need have to have a line of communication that’s open there. Sometimes you often need, quite often, therapy. Talking to a professional can help. Communication is what I would say right up front.”

How important is sex in a relationship?

“I think it is as important as the people make it. Some people don’t really have a strong sex drive for whatever reason. It could be biological, it could be that other things are more important. They want the emotional, intellectual connection.”

Do you think it is bad for couples to go for a long period without sex?

“It comes back to communication again. If people are talking about [sex], then at least the lines of communication are open. Some people don’t have sex because their physically separated. If you’re deployed and you’re in the military, and your partner is back home in the states, then you’re not having sex. I would say it’s only unhealthy if there’s no conversation around why the sex isn’t happening.”

Can an STI derail your sexual relationship with your partner?

“Absolutely. There’s so many reasons that can derail your sexual relationship. But, if you are having an open conversation about sex with your partner, and if you’re clear about your own boundaries and your own sexual health, and you can articulate the words ‘no’ and ‘yes’ — and not just articulate them, but stand up toward your boundaries — that’s one thing. Another thing is, these days, we have medication that can reduce the impact of a lot of STDs. For example, HIV is no longer a death sentence. People live very long, healthy lives with HIV as long as they are taking medication and they’re not engaging in destructive lifestyles like drinking or drug use.”

Tips to bettering a sexual relationship:

“First thing is sex is supposed to be fun. But, it can only be fun if you actually have conversations about it, and if you know yourself and in terms of what do you like and don’t like and what your boundaries are. You need to have fun, you need to be open minded, but you also need to be aware of the risks and protect yourself, and that means knowing how you get STIs and knowing that [having too much] alcohol can be dangerous. Same thing with other substances. I’m not saying they’re bad, but healthy moderation is very key. Some people are really concerned with how they look and how other people perceive them, and it really cuts into our pleasure and being who we are in terms of our authentic self. So, one thing I’ve learned, just give up being concerned… in your mind for how you look to others. Give that up, and who cares because we’re all just human, and have fun with it, and then you’ll actually begin to really enjoy yourself.”