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Your Body, Relational, and Sexual World

New research links people's body image, sex life, and happiness with a partner.

Key points

  • Researchers studied ties across people's body image, sex life, and contentment with their partner.
  • People who don't feel good about their bodies are less sexually content and less happy with their partner.
  • People whose partners complimented their bodies felt better and had a happier sex life and relationship.
  • Future studies need to include more racially and ethnically diverse couples, as well as same-sex couples.
Eugenia Remark/Pexels
Source: Eugenia Remark/Pexels

How do you feel in your own skin? Arguably, this is an understandably charged question for many, if not most, of us, no matter how we feel about our bodies. And if we zoom into the context of a romantic relationship, how might our feelings about our body intersect with our relational and sexual world with our partner?

In a newly published study, a team of researchers expanded on earlier work by exploring this question among married couples of diverse ages (between 20 and 70 years old), studying the experiences of both men and women (as opposed to solely women), and considering the type of feedback they received about their bodies in their relationship.

The researchers asked over 100 married couples assorted questions about how they felt about their bodies, how often they had sex with their spouse, how content they were with their sex life, how happy they felt in their relationship with their spouse, and what kinds of remarks their spouse made to them about their body.

The results revealed that people (both men and women) who didn’t feel good about their bodies were apt to have sex with their spouse less often, and having less sex was linked to feeling less fulfilled in their sex life; additionally, feeling less content with their sex life was connected to feeling less happy in their relationship with their spouse overall. The research team also found that men and women whose partners complimented their bodies tended to feel better about their own bodies; moreover, feeling better about their own bodies was tied to having more sex, which was linked to feeling sexually happier, which was related to feeling more gratified in their relationship in general. On the other hand, women who heard critical remarks about their bodies felt less content sexually, which was connected to feeling less fulfilled with their spouses.

As all research can be improved, the researchers rightly highlighted certain ways that later work can advance what they've done. Most of the people in the study were White, and only heterosexual couples were included, making it important to repeat this study among people of diverse racial and ethnic groups and among same-sex couples. Also, a broader exploration of sexual practices will be valuable, as “having sex” can mean different things to different people.

Moreover, this study only looked at links between people’s feelings about their body, their sex life, and their relationships at one point in time, making it impossible to use this study to talk about whether any of these elements actually lead to or cause another.

Having said that, as the research team also pointed out, the results point the way to possible avenues where couples can receive support, such as through helping partners shift their relationship to their body, improve the kinds of remarks they make about their partner’s body, and helping partners approach sexual intimacy. They were also right to point out that support is available to couples to address these matters. If you and your partner are thinking about any of the topics you’ve read about here, you’re certainly not alone, and sex therapy can help.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


Ashkinazi, M., Wagner, S. A., Cunningham, K., & Mattson, R. E. (2024). Body image satisfaction and body-related partner commentary link to marital quality through sexual frequency and satisfaction: A path model. Couple and Family Psychology, 13(1), 31–49.

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