“Psychologists believe that emotional connection is the key to long-term marital success—not physical attraction,” says the Love Is Blind Netflix reality dating show cohost, who introduces himself as Nick Lachey.” But that’s not exactly true.
Despite Lachey’s claim on behalf of the show, psychologists—and researchers, as well as sociologists, and couples’ counselors—actually tend to agree that physical attraction and physical touch are important ingredients in the tricky-to-mix cocktail of long-term affection.
Still, as Love Is Blind ubiquity takes hold, the show’s apparent thesis—that love grown completely independent from physical appearance or physical touch is “really pure, true love”—is bound to have an impact.
“Is love truly blind?” is in fact a question science has addressed many times.
In general, sex and desire can’t be taken out of the equation of relationship satisfaction and success. “Emotional and sexual aspects of intimacy in romantic relationships are important correlates of couples’ relationship satisfaction,” Yoo, et al., wrote in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy in 2014. In a study of 335 married couples, researchers found that “sexual satisfaction significantly predicted emotional intimacy for husbands and wives, while emotional intimacy did not appear to have a significant influence on sexual satisfaction.” The concept of Love Is Blind builds emotional intimacy but doesn’t allow physical contact.
A major study of almost 39,000 heterosexual-identifying American adults in relationships for three or more years, published in 2016, found that people who report feeling sexually satisfied in their relationships also report higher relationship satisfaction overall. Essentially, the people who had sex were happier about their relationships. Sex and touch, these studies suggest, are central to long-term relationship happiness, so starting a relationship without knowing whether either party is physically attracted to the other isn’t particularly logical.
The study even found that those people with reported similar levels of attraction to each other at the time of the study were as they did at the beginning of their relationships. Basically, attraction based on looks, sexual satisfaction, and happiness in relationships are linked.
Even kissing was said to be a mechanism for mate choice and mate assessment,” Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, has said. Some studies have even suggested that saliva can help determine compatibility, and one found that couples who kissed more reported greater relationship satisfaction. Women, overwhelmingly, say that first kisses affect their feelings of attraction, and that kissing is important in relationships.
What couples may be getting right in their assumptions is the fact that research finds that sexual desire decreases after the early infatuation stage in a relationship, and fluctuates throughout relationships. (We’re often told that women are the main culprits here, but that’s not totally true). If you do want to help maintain a “long-term happy partnership,” Fisher has said, a key way is to sustain your sex drive by having sex with your partner—even scheduled, perfunctory sex. The promise that you and your partner will wish to engage in regular sex just seems harder to guarantee if you get engaged without knowing whether you are attracted to each other.
So, there you have it—physical touch and relationship satisfaction are inextricably linked. Most people probably knew that already. But even if you could somehow untangle them and experience romantic love distinct from physical attraction or sexual compatibility, it wouldn’t make for purer or truer love. Physical desire for another person’s body isn’t dirty, or unhealthy, or diminishing. A version of an outlook that plenty of people hold—that love is beautiful but desire is next to sin is obviously extreme. There’s no question that our culture is damagingly, sometimes violently, obsessed with bizarre standards of beauty. Conventions that reward thinness and punish body fat, conventions that are just racism disguised as aesthetic preferences, ageism, toxic masculinity, pinning female worth to physical appearance—they all have to go. But humans are never going to extricate ourselves from our love of beauty and the desire beauty sometimes ignites.
An ideal outcome would be a world where every type of person and body could be seen as beautiful and desirable, not one in which physical attraction doesn’t matter.
Taking appearance and physical touch out of the equation isn’t a brave stance against superficial culture; it’s fanciful at best and wildly sex-negative at worst. (By the way, actual blind people aren’t part of an elaborate “experiment”; they experience love and desire like everyone else.)
So why contend that appearances should have no bearing on entering into a lifelong commitment?