Sexual satisfaction promotes relationship satisfaction, as well as life happiness, and is vital to the maintenance of intimate romantic relationships (Fisher et al., 2015; Heiman et al., 2011). But a satisfying sex life is about more than just one's frequency of intercourse or achieving orgasm. Some other surprising qualities can enhance our sexual satisfaction:
What’s Your Number?
You might intuitively suppose that individuals with more sex partners would also have more fulfilling sex lives. However, for long-term romantic couples (especially the male partners), having had more lifetime sex partners is associated with less sexual satisfaction (Fisher et al., 2015; Heiman et al., 2011). Moving from partner to partner may be motivated by the search for a more satisfying sexual experience or, alternatively, having multiple partners might elevate one’s expectations for a satisfying encounter (Heiman et al., 2011). Another surprising finding from these researchers: Couples in longer relationships report more sexual satisfaction than couples in shorter relationships (Fisher et al., 2015; Heiman et al., 2011). These findings may indicate that sexual satisfaction grows as relationships deepen, or just that sexually satisfied couples are more likely to have longer relationships than unsatisfied pairs.
Was It Good for You?
Some may assume that sexual satisfaction is an individual phenomenon, and that if one partner achieves orgasm, that individual will be satisfied. However, research reveals evidence to the contrary: When we care more about our partner’s sexual experience, we also report more sexual satisfaction ourselves (Heiman et al., 2011). Further, when our partners are happy outside of the bedroom, we also experience enhanced satisfaction in the bedroom (Fisher et al., 2015). Individuals describing their own sexually satisfying experiences tend to say that mutual pleasure is essential to their own feelings of fulfillment (Pascoal et al., 2014). Frequent non-sexual kissing and cuddling can also elicit enhanced sexual contentment (Heiman et al., 2011).
Neurotic Is Not Erotic
Researchers have discovered links between couples' personality characteristics and their sexual satisfaction. When both members of a couple are lower in the trait of neuroticism, the partners experience greater sexual satisfaction (Meltzer and McNulty, 2016). Curiously, husbands who are lower in, and wives who are higher in, openness to new experience also report more sexual satisfaction, although the effects related to neuroticism are stronger than the effects related to openness.
Given the association between neuroticism and anxious attachment styles (Crawford et al., 2007), it is not surprising that individuals with more anxious attachment styles (as well as individuals with partners with more avoidant attachment styles) report reduced sexual satisfaction (Butzer and Campbell, 2008). These authors suggest that anxiously attached individuals may be concerned about being rejected by their partners, or may even neglect their own sexual needs in order to please their partners, while individuals with avoidant partners may resent the emotional distance imposed by their partners. In contrast, individuals with secure attachment styles experience greater sexual satisfaction in their relationships (Butzer and Campbell, 2008).
Is Your Partner a Feminist?
Perhaps the most surprising association with sexual satisfaction I have come across in this research is the association between a feminist partner and sexual satisfaction. Intriguing research (Rudman and Phelan, 2007) shows that both men and women who have feminist partners report increased sexual satisfaction as well as more stable relationships. Although the authors did not speculate about what could drive this association, perhaps feminist partners are more comfortable with sexual communication, or care more about their partners' sexual experiences.
To learn more about romantic relationships, check out our book, The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships.
Portions of this post were taken from The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships.
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Copyright 2015 Madeleine A. Fugère.
Butzer, B., & Campbell, L. (2008). Adult attachment, sexual satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction: A study of married couples. Personal Relationships, 15(1), 141-154.
Crawford, T. N., Shaver, P. R., & Goldsmith, H. H. (2007). How affect regulation moderates the association between anxious attachment and neuroticism. Attachment & human development, 9(2), 95-109.
Fisher, W. A., Donahue, K. L., Long, J. S., Heiman, J. R., Rosen, R. C., & Sand, M. S. (2015). Individual and partner correlates of sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness in midlife couples: Dyadic analysis of the International Survey of Relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(6), 1609-1620.
Heiman, J. R., Long, J. S., Smith, S. N., Fisher, W. A., Sand, M. S., & Rosen, R. C. (2011). Sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness in midlife and older couples in five countries. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(4), 741-753.
Meltzer, A. L., & McNulty, J. K. (2016). Who is having more and better sex? The Big Five as predictors of sex in marriage. Journal of Research in Personality, 63, 62-66. Pascoal, P. M., Narciso, I. D. S. B., & Pereira, N. M. (2014). What is sexual satisfaction? Thematic analysis of lay people's definitions. Journal of Sex Research, 51(1), 22-30.
Rudman, L. A., & Phelan, J. E. (2007). The interpersonal power of feminism: Is feminism good for romantic relationships? Sex Roles, 57(11-12), 787-799.