Gaye wrote this in Ostend, a resort town on the coast of Belgium. He went there in 1981 to relax and recover from his drug problems. He stayed for 18 months before returning to the US.
The renown writer David Ritz gave Gaye the idea for this song. Gaye had a large collection of pornography, to the point that many of his friends felt he was addicted to porn. When he noticed the collection, Ritz told Gaye he needed some "Sexual Healing," and Marvin had him write some words which became the lyrics to the song. Ritz told Songwriter Universe: "As I was writing the lyric, I was trying to capture Marvin's voice and style as a singer. He said, 'That lyric sounds like me.' The lyric seemed to fit into his philosophical musings and his personal, emotional needs, so he could sing about it with complete honesty."
Gaye had invited Ritz to Ostend to help write his biography - Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye. Ritz has also written biographies for Ray Charles, Buddy Guy, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King and Janet Jackson.
David Ritz was not given a writing credit for this, but was thanked in the liner notes for inspiring the song title. This broke his friendship with Gaye, as Ritz sued for a songwriter credit. Co-composer Odell Brown, who was also Gaye's keyboard player, claimed he didn't have any knowledge of Ritz's contribution to the song title, let alone any lyrics. After Gaye died, Ritz won his case and got the credit, which now reads: Odell Brown/Marvin Gaye/David Ritz.
Gaye had a lot of success writing very sexual songs and built a reputation as a ladies' man, but he was the son of a preacher and struggled with his religious values. This conflict tormented him for years and inspired the biography title Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye, by David Ritz.
When Gaye left Belgium and toured to support the Midnight Love album, he started using drugs again and became mentally unstable. He moved in with his parents and was shot and killed by his father after an argument on April 1, 1984 – the day before his 45th birthday. His father claimed he shot him in self-defense.
This was the first single Gaye released after leaving Motown Records. He spent 20 tumultuous years with the label, which included disputes over royalties and his marriage to and divorce from Berry Gordy's sister, Anna. He recorded this album for CBS Records.
This won a Grammy in 1982 for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male. The instrumental version also won for Best R&B Instrumental.
DJ Max-A-Million did a remix of this song in 1995 that became very popular in dance clubs. Michael Bolton covered the song in 2000 for his Timeless: The Classics, Vol. 2 album. His version peaked at #28 on the US Adult Contemporary chart.