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Does a Satisfying Sex Life Mean Less Desire to Couple Up?

New research shows that sexual satisfaction leads to singles feeling fulfilled.

Photo by Maksim Goncharenok from Pexels
sexual satisfaction leads to singles feeling fulfilled
Source: Photo by Maksim Goncharenok from Pexels

Everyone struggles with feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled at different points. The answer to fulfillment can lie in different things: a lifestyle change, finding a new hobby, or building up friendships.

Often, it's suggested that single people seek out partnerships in order to find fulfillment. Especially now, as the isolation of the pandemic can highlight one’s relationship status, it is vital to assess what factors lead to a fulfilled and happy life as a single person.

Chelsea Jackson, editor for online publication Her Campus, for example, proudly says that she is sexually satisfied and this leads her to be happy as a single woman, more than ever before. Now, like Chelsea claims, a new 2020 study suggests that the answer to singlehood satisfaction may lie in sexual satisfaction.

Long-Term Singlehood and Seeking Fulfillment

As the average age of marriage increases and overall rates of marriage decreases, there is a larger percentage of single-person households than ever before. Many people think that single people are worried about feeling disconnected and lonely, which feeds into the public fear and stigma of being singlehood. But many singles are just happy as they are.

What then, are factors that lead to a life of satisfaction and fulfillment as a single person?

A new 2020 study examined different factors that contribute to singlehood satisfaction. This three-part study was divided into three different studies: one studying sexual satisfaction and familial/friend satisfaction, a second studying sexual satisfaction and quality, and a third studying sexual satisfaction and satisfaction with family/friends.

For the first study, researchers used data from the second round of the National Survey of Families and Households, collected between 1992 and 1994. Single people who were not in long term relationships were used as subjects. The measures included: a desire to get married; sexual satisfaction; sexual frequency; life satisfaction; satisfaction with family; and satisfaction with friends. The results of this part showed that higher sexual satisfaction is correlated with less desire to marry.

For the second study, researchers used data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States, from 1995. This study included data from both never-married individuals and divorced individuals. The measures included: the belief that happiness can be achieved without marriage; sexual satisfaction; sexual frequency; life satisfaction; relationship quality with family; relationship quality with friends; and remaining unmarried participants. The results of this second part showed that sexual satisfaction correlates with stronger beliefs that unmarried people can be happy without marriage.

The final study was conducted via an analysis of 10-year data from the German Family Panel study on couple and family dynamics from 2008 onward. There were three groups of participants: adolescents, young adults, and mid-life adults. The measures included: satisfaction with singlehood; desire for a partner; sexual satisfaction; sexual frequency; life satisfaction; satisfaction with family; satisfaction with friends; and the likelihood of being single. The results of this part showed that sexual satisfaction correlates with greater satisfaction with singlehood and less desire for a partner.

What Factors Lead to Fulfillment?

These studies join many previous studies showing that single people with “high-quality social networks” are less lonely, highly satisfied with their lives, have better mental health, and have a decrease in desire for a partner. In other words, the intimacy derived from a romantic relationship, though different from platonic intimacy, can be fulfilled with close, meaningful friendships and connections.

Associated with a desire for intimacy is the desire for sexual intimacy. Many single people fear singlehood for a lack of fulfillment of sexual needs without a partner. However, being single does not mean that people can’t remain sexually interested and active. In fact, a recent study shows exactly the opposite for most singles groups.

This three-part study shows how having a satisfactory sex life as a single is associated with a lowered desire to marry and high satisfaction with singlehood. The results of the study were shown consistently even after controlling for other areas of life satisfaction.

The results of this study are particularly interesting because high-quality friendships, while also associated with happiness and satisfaction with being single, were not associated with a lessened desire for a partner. In other words, it shows that high-quality friendships can improve the overall quality of our lives, but may not affect our desire, or lack thereof, for a partner.

The new study shows something different in the realm of sex: while having good friends can make single life enjoyable but won’t necessarily lessen the desire for a partner, sexual satisfaction does exactly that. Greater sexual satisfaction leads to greater satisfaction with singlehood and less desire for a partner.

It is also interesting to note some other findings of this three-part study. For example, having satisfying familial relationships didn’t affect satisfaction with singlehood. The logic may be that while family can help fulfill people’s desire for intimacy, the pressure to marry can also increase one’s unhappiness with one’s relationship status.

Indeed, there hasn’t been much research examining what leads to singles leading a satisfying life. Challenging the idea that true intimacy can only come from a partner, this study showed that when our desire for sexual intimacy and closeness is fulfilled, people are satisfied no matter their partnership status. Like with Chelsea Jackson, it is entirely possible for single people to feel happy, and that happiness seems to have to do with their level of sexual satisfaction.

This article was written with Abigail Winokur of Yeshiva University and Hebrew University's Rothberg School.

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