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Love Is Blind? Not so Much, Says Science—and That’s a Good Thing

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 longterm relationship happiness, so starting a relationship without knowing if either party is physically attracted to the other isn’t particularly logical.

The study even found that those people reported similar levels of attraction to each other at the time of the study as that they did at the beginning of their relationships. Basically—attraction based on looks, sexual satisfaction, and happiness in relationships are linked. (The study does not mention raising relationship satisfaction by retreating into separate pods.)

Even kissing—which couples on Love Is Blind aren’t allowed to do until after their engagements—is “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. (If this is true for women and kissing, think about how important it is for heterosexual women, who are less likely to have an orgasm during partnered sex, to make sure they are sexually compatible with their partners before committing to them for life.)

What couples and producers on Love Is Blind may be getting at 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.) But if you do want to help maintain a “longterm happy partnership,” Fisher has said, a key way is to sustain your sex drive by having sex with your partner—even scheduled, perfunctory sex. That promise of that you and your partner will wish to engage in regular sex just seems harder to guarantee if you get engaged without knowing if you are attracted to each other.

So there you have it—sex 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. Love Is Blind is obviously extreme, but it’s a version of an outlook that plenty of people hold—that love is beautiful but desire is next to sin. There’s no question that our culture is damagingly, sometimes violently, obsessed with bizarro standards of beauty. Conventions that reward thinness and punish body fat, conventions that are just racism disguised as aesthetic preferences, agism, toxic masculinity, pinning female worth to physical appearance—they al have to go. But humans are never going to extricate ourselves from our love of beauty and the desire beauty sometimes ignites.

But 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 experiences of love and desire like everyone else.) At risk of going too hard on a perfectly delightful reality show, part of what makes Love Is Blind feel so absurd is the fact that every cast member has the glossy, unremarkable hotness of a model in a college brochure. Producers don’t think audiences will choose to look at people of varying levels of conventional hotness for even forty minutes, so why contend that appearances should have no bearing on entering into a lifelong commitment?

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