Mismatching in Sexual Desire Matters Less Than You Think

Overall levels of sexual desire more strongly impact relationship satisfaction.

Posted Jul 13, 2020 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch

Becca Tapert/Unsplash
Source: Becca Tapert/Unsplash

New research by Kim and colleagues (2020) published earlier this month in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that a couple’s overall level of sexual desire has a greater impact on their relationship and sexual satisfaction than matching one another in levels of sexual desire. 

Mismatching in sexual desire is common in heterosexual relationships. However, as Kim et al. report in their new article, past research measuring mismatching in couples’ feelings of sexual desire typically uses a difference score to estimate the mismatch within a couple.

For example, imagine a sexual desire scale ranging from 1 to 10 where 1 means very low sexual desire and 10 reflects very high sexual desire. If one partner reports a sexual desire score of 5 and the other partner reports a sexual desire score of 4, the difference score associated with that mismatch would be 1. However, the authors emphasize that difference scores of 1 may mean different things for different couples. For example, a couple with sexual desire scores of 9 and 8 have a difference score of 1 but a couple with sexual desire scores of 2 and 1 also have a difference score of 1. Thus, traditional difference-based measures of mismatching fail to account for couples’ overall levels of sexual desire.

Kim et al. used a new technique called dyadic response surface analysis to look at the three-dimensional associations between couples’ sexual desire scores with two different outcome variables — relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction. These analyses allowed the researchers to examine the effects of matching or mismatching in sexual desire as well as the effects of overall levels of sexual desire on the two outcome variables. 

The researchers used data from more than 300 heterosexual couples from the U.S. and Canada. (In this case, the researchers limited the sample to heterosexual couples because prior research shows gender differences in levels of sexual desire.) The couples self-reported their levels of sexual desire, relationship satisfaction, and sexual satisfaction. 

The researchers found that couples with higher levels of sexual desire reported stronger relationship satisfaction than couples with lower sexual desire. In this analysis, there was no evidence linking matching in sexual desire with greater relationship satisfaction. Similar results were found for sexual satisfaction; couples with higher levels of sexual desire reported more sexual satisfaction than couples with lower sexual desire. Once again, there was no evidence to suggest that matching in sexual desire was associated with greater sexual satisfaction. However, there was evidence which suggested that when there is a mismatch in sexual desire, individuals experience more sexual satisfaction when their own desire is stronger than their partner’s, rather than when their partner’s desire is stronger than their own. 

Because mismatching in sexual desire is so common in heterosexual relationships, the authors stress that efforts to match one another will not necessarily improve sexual or relationship satisfaction. To the contrary, the authors recommend strategies designed to sustain desire over time or working as a couple to manage differences in sexual desire. 

Facebook image: Suwit Rattiwan/Shutterstock


Kim, J. J., Muise, A., Barranti, M., Mark, K. P., Rosen, N. O., Harasymchuk, C., & Impett, E. (2020). Are couples more satisfied when they match in sexual desire? New insights from response surface analyses. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1948550620926770.