Keeping Emotional Intimacy Alive After the Orgasm

Intimacy in Marriage

Orgasm. You may be thinking that this powerfully-charged word says it all, that orgasm is the whole point of sex. But if you’re married or in a committed relationship and leap out of bed after your orgasm, you’re missing an important opportunity to nurture your marriage/relationship and you’re neglecting a rich facet of intimacy and passion.

There’s no denying it: orgasms feel wonderful. Physiologically, the act of lovemaking naturally progresses to a physical release that can take us to heights of ecstasy. However, the orgasm isn’t everything (case in point: there are instances where orgasms either aren’t possible for medical reasons, or else not practical for various reasons, and couples have learned to achieve mutual satisfaction through “everything but” the orgasm). So don’t tell yourself that that fleeting moment needs to be the pinnacle of pleasure for all of your sexual experiences or that it’s representative of the health of your sex life overall. Sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy rest on much more than the point of physical release.

But let’s assume you and your partner are willing and able to orgasm most times you have sex. Let’s explore what happens after the orgasm.

Nurturing Emotional Intimacy After Sex

“I love having sex,” Brenda (age 33, married for four years) said, “not only for the obvious reasons, but also because I feel incredibly close to Jeff while we’re making love. The part I’m learning to dread is the moment right after. Jeff practically catapults out of bed, and I feel extra-alone because I had just been feeling connected to him and then suddenly I’m faced with an empty bed.”

Brenda is not alone. And neither is Jeff. While this dynamic doesn’t always fall neatly into gender camps, it often does: women tend to want to cuddle and revisit the lovemaking moments they just experienced with their partner (often through talking and gentle touch), and men tend to want to move onto the next thing, whether that’s sleeping or watching TV or getting out of bed and doing something else entirely.

Do these differences mean that lovemaking doesn’t mean as much to Jeff as it does to Brenda? Does this mean that Jeff isn’t making sexual and emotional intimacy a top priority? Not at all. With some education and effort, Jeff can learn what his wife needs and can learn to give it to her without feeling like he’s making himself unrecognizable.

Not to spend too much time on the science of evolution, and not to gloss over human behavior under the auspices of natural urges, but some understanding of how the sexes differ in this regard can be helpful.

Nurturing the emotional aspect of a relationship often (though not always) comes more naturally to women. Typically women don’t feel like they’re doing anything “extra” when they emotionally connect with others, whether it’s a friend or their significant other. Men, on the other hand, “wired” as they are to find problems and fix them, often (though not always) find slowing down and tuning in to their emotional self in a deep enough way to connect with someone else somewhat of a challenge. So for Jeff, everything’s perfect after he and Brenda make love: there’s no problem in sight, nothing to fix. Hence, he can safely move on to the next part of his day.

But for Brenda, who craves more emotional intimacy after the act of physical intimacy opens her up and makes her feel vulnerable with Jeff, “after-play” is an important part of her connection with her mate. After orgasm, her brain is flooded with the hormone oxytocin, which makes her desire more touch and closeness, not less. Therefore, Jeff removing himself from her side in that sudden way feels like a giant let-down to her—she has the powerful urge to connect, to merge sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy, and no one to connect with.

“I could do that,” Jeff said when informed as to what Brenda needs after the orgasm. “I guess I just figured she was on the same page I was after we had sex.” He laughs. “But it wouldn’t kill me to spend extra time in bed with her. Not at all.”

He reached over to where Brenda was sitting and grabbed her hand. She returned the squeeze.

“And it’s not like I plan on holding Jeff hostage,” Brenda added. “I just need some transition time from our lovemaking to the rest of our life. Kind of like a bridge.” She smiled. “I understand that he can get squirmy when he has nothing to ‘do.’ I don’t want to torture him by making him stay put for too long. So maybe I can give him a scalp massage when we’re lying there…he loves those.”

So if you’re laboring under the common misconception that making love ends with the orgasm, it would do your marriage or relationship some good to challenge that notion.

What happens after sex is as important to your intimate relationship as the act itself.

Spice Up Your Marriage/Relationship Action Step

Take a moment to think about your current love-making routines and focus on what happens after the sexual act is complete.

  • What do you and your partner typically do after having an orgasm?
  • Do you, like Brenda, need transition time together after sex (a transition that creates a bridge from the sexual to the emotional)?
  • How can you effectively communicate this to your spouse/partner?

(Featured [top] image credit: Loving Couple Lying in Bed by Richard Foster under CC BY-SA  2.0)