Just in time for Valentine's Day, a new national survey suggests that when it comes to intimacy, many stressed-out, multi-tasking Americans give their romantic relationships a lukewarm 'eh.'
In the "Intimacy Index," conducted by the Berman Center for Women's Health in Chicago, an estimated 3,000 randomly selected adults in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles revealed how they feel about the emotional connections and bonds in their lives.
An estimated 66 percent of respondents said the intimacy in their lives was "fair to good," but those who spend more than two hours a day working at home, playing video games or watching TV reported much less satisfaction with their intimacy levels. A majority of newlyweds and couples on vacation reported more emotional and sexual satisfaction than stuck-at-home folks who have been together longer.
Laura Berman, Ph.D., relationship therapist and founder of the Berman Center, a clinic devoted to women's issues, wasn't surprised by the results. "Unless you're a newlywed, you feel that your connection to your partner could be better," she says.
Part of the problem is the ever-encroaching work day into couples' home lives. "We lead such busy lives and we are so overwhelmed by work and kids and live in this media-driven culture that there is very little connecting time," she says.
Funded by an unrestricted educational grant through KY Brand, the Berman survey findings are similar to a recent study claiming that couples who have a TV set in their bedroom have sex half as often as those who don’t.
A case for cuddling
Most people equate intimacy with sex, but the Berman survey measured other components as well, such as emotional connections, intellectual bonds and sharing similar social goals.
"Intimacy is multi-faceted; it's not a synonym for sex," says Berman. "It's the sense of feeling close and connected to your partner."
Yet sexual satisfaction in the relationship was the biggest predictor of high levels of intimacy among couples, although Berman notes that it's not just frequency, but "quality of sex as well as the degree of adventurousness."
At the same time, respondents reported better sex on weekends (37 percent) and while on vacation or other special occasions (10 percent).
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For couples wanting to heat up their relationships, the survey found that those who kiss regularly and spontaneously not only have a closer emotional connection than those who skimp on cuddling outside the bedroom, but also decreased levels of stress.
"The less stress and depression, the higher the level of intimacy because you have the mental energy to invest in the relationship," says Berman.
Men (65.9 percent) tended to somewhat or strongly agree that they were satisfied with the level of affection in their relationship, compared with 60.8 percent of women.
"Is that because men are easier to please or because women are better at delivering intimacy?" asks Berman.
Almost half of the couples said that both partners were equally likely to initiate sex, another key factor in predicting the level of intimacy in a relationship. For the other half of couples, men were four times more likely to initiate.
Pepper Schwartz, a University of Washington sociologist, says couples can improve their intimacy simply by spending more time together. Beyond disconnecting from electronic distractions, couples need to rediscover the things that made them want to be together in the first place.
"Just turning off the TV won't help if there's nothing to talk about," she says. "You need to fight boredom by creating ongoing things that make you feel close and are fun. You have to have experiences in common."
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