Are Couples More Satisfied When They Match in Sexual Desire?

A new study finds that overall desire may be more predictive of satisfaction.

Posted Sep 12, 2020

It makes sense that romantic partners who have similar levels of sexual desire would be more sexually satisfied.

That's because, in relationships in which both partners' sexual interest is about the same, there isn't a lot to navigate when it comes to sexual frequency. Whether we agree that sex is a daily, weekly, or monthly occurrence, we are on the same page and, most likely, feel content with how often we're getting it on.

In contrast, when one person has a higher sexual interest and the other has a lower interest in sex — particularly if these differences are persistent — it can lead to disagreements, frustration, guilt, and distress. In fact, desire discrepancies are one of the more common issues that lead couples to seek therapy.

However, what has been largely missing from the research to date is the answer to the question: Are all desire discrepancies created equal?

That is, are couples that have different levels of desire yet still have sex fairly regularly just as (dis)satisfied as couples who have desire discrepancies but have sex less often?

The Research

In a new study just published in Social Psychological & Personality Science, researchers analyzed data from 3 different studies of couples recruited in Canada and the United States.

There were a total of 366 mixed-sex couples. The three samples were largely Caucasian (89%, 77%, and 72% respectively), most were married (69%, 64%, and 44% respectively), and relationship lengths were on average 9 years, 8.3 years, and 6.4 years respectively. The participants' ages ranged from 18 to 67 with the average age across all three studies being in the early thirties.

The researchers asked participants to complete questionnaires that measured their sexual desire for their partner, their relationship satisfaction, and their sexual satisfaction.

The authors were particularly interested in the question: Is overall level of desire, versus absolute differences in desire, more predictive of sexual satisfaction?

The Findings

For 229 couples, men reported having higher desire, 115 couples had women reporting higher desire, and 22 couples reported equal levels of sexual desire.

When exploring the relationship between desire and satisfaction, the authors reported that greater absolute discrepancies in sexual desire were negatively associated with men and women's relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction.

However, the authors concluded that couples who are matched in sexual desire with their partner were not more satisfied than those who are mismatched. Instead, they found that overall level of sexual desire for the couple was associated with sexual and relational satisfaction.

In other words? Couples with higher desire overall — even if when desire discrepancies were present — were more sexually satisfied.

What Do These Findings Mean?

Sexual desire discrepancies are a common occurrence in romantic relationships. But rather than panicking about having different levels of desire — or trying to find some magically equivalent interest in having sex — the authors suggest that maintaining desire over the course of our relationships and navigating any sexual differences may be more fruitful and effective.

Facebook image: Lucky Business/Shutterstock

References

Kim, J. J., Muise, A., Barranti, M., Mark, K. P., Rosen, N. O., H, 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, doi: 10.1177/1948550620926770