We all show love in different ways in every kind of relationship in our lives — but for people in sexual relationships where physical intimacy is an important priority it can be easy to wonder if sex acts can count as a love language of their own.
Gary Chapman (author of The Five Love Languages) breaks down the five love languages as the following: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. The love languages are a hot topic of conversation for people who are interested in human hearts, minds and relationships, so it’s certainly natural and fair to ask if sex on its own should be considered a love language. So we did.
Kelly Connell, the sexuality and relationship expert for My First Blush tells SheKnows that it first depends on the type of sex you’re having. “We have sex for many different reasons,” Connell says. “Sometimes because we want to express our love for someone and sometimes because we just need to get laid and sometimes it is in between these two.”
However, when sex is directly connected to an intimate relationship, Connell says that it can be part of love language. “We use our bodies to give the person we value and often love pleasure, acceptance, touch and connection,” she explains. “How we touch someone in that situation, whether we look into their eyes during sex, can convey a lot to the other person. When we love someone, it is natural to want to express that through sex.”
Raffi Bilek, a licensed clinical social worker, couples counselor and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center explains to SheKnows why he believes sex shouldn’t be categorized as its own love language. Bilek points out that virtually everyone likes sex, and it’s a connecting experience for most people. But he raises the important point that by saying sex is the primary way to make a person feel loved, it can lead to relationship problems down the line.
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“What happens when one partner can’t have sex for an extended period for medical or other reasons? What do you do in the beginning of a relationship when you may not want to have sex to feel loved?” Bilek says. “I think physical touch as a love language encapsulates the way certain people feel about sex, but it also allows for people to express and receive love in physical but nonsexual ways.”
Afton Strate, licensed clinical marriage and family therapist and owner of Anchoring Peace Therapy in Overland Park, Kansas, has similar concerns about categorizing sex as its own love language. “Physical touch, which can include sex, is a valid love language. However, the intention behind the gesture is what is most important,” Strate tells SheKnows.
“It’s important that the motivation to show your love and affection toward your partner — whether that be through touch or one of the other languages — be with the intention on giving that love to your partner from a place of giving, without the expectation of receiving something in return,” Strate says.
She adds that if we haven’t invested time and energy into building trust and respect in a relationship, a partner’s gestures may feel like transactions — as though they are “going through the motions to get something in return.” (And that is decidedly unsexy.) Although sex is an important part of a relationship with different partners (who have different love languages for giving and receiving affection), Strate emphasizes that viewing physical touch as purely sexual undermines the importance of “all the other forms of physical connection couples share, like holding hands, hugging, cuddling, kissing, running your fingers through your partner’s hair and massages.”
Of course, sex can certainly still be an important part of the love language of touch.
“With a sexual partner — not just someone you met, but someone who knows you and has a deep knowledge of you, that touch is not only healing, it is necessary,” Merle Yost, a licensed marriage and family therapist tells SheKnows. “That intimate touch both validates us as well as soothes, excites and fulfills us on multiple levels. That is the best kind of touch, and that is at the core of what touch as a love language does for us.”
Most are probably in agreement that a great sex life can only bolster an already healthy, stable relationship. But, as Bilek points out, it’s not uncommon for couples to go through extended periods when one person can’t engage in sexual activity due to medical or other reasons. And that’s why physical touch, which has a far broader definition, is so important.
A healthy relationship must be able to withstand a short or long break from sexual activity if necessary — and luckily, there are plenty of other ways to feel physically close to your partner during those times.
A version of this story was published March 2018.