Which Couples Are the Most Sexually Satisfied?

Never-marrieds living apart from their partner have greater sexual satisfaction.

Posted Oct 17, 2019

 Al Smith [CC BY 3.0]. Used with permission.
Source: Al Smith [CC BY 3.0]. Used with permission.

In two blog posts for Psychology Today, sociologist Kislev argued against the conventional wisdom that marriage leads to greater happiness and economic, physical, and social benefits. He noted that with the rise of cohabitation, “being unmarried has become increasingly accepted by many social and demographic groups,” which can lead to the same benefits and, I might add, contribute to other positives, such as sexual and romantic variety, personal freedom, and excitement.

The first potential bonus to marriage, sexual happiness, was explored in a follow-up study by Kislev, who counted seven groups (from largest to smallest):

1. Married, cohabiting

2. Single, never married

3. Cohabiting, not married

4. Divorced/separated, single

5. Never married, living apart from a new partner

6. Divorced/separated, cohabiting with a new partner

7. Divorced/separated, living apart from a new partner

In terms of the frequency of sex and sexual satisfaction, it mattered which group you were in. Single individuals without a partner, whether never married or divorced/separated, had the fewest sex partners and the lowest sexual satisfaction scores. Those who had the most sex were those who have a new partner, whether the two (or more) are cohabiting or living apart. These were also the same individuals who had the highest levels of sexual satisfaction.

Turning to the more general concept of life satisfaction, singles once again had the lowest level, and those who reported the highest life satisfaction were those cohabiting with a partner, whether once married or not.

How to explain the difference among groups? It might not be the traditional explanation that being with someone leads to a happier life; rather, perhaps those with a pre-existing happier life are more likely to find a partner. Thus, what might be critical here is that it is not marriage per se that is beneficial for sexual satisfaction or life happiness, but having a partner—whether living together or apart.

Kislev concluded, “The findings indicate that marriage per se is not beneficial for sexual satisfaction. Married couples score relatively low in this regard… Therefore, it seems that it is not marriage that is beneficial to sexual satisfaction, but rather having a partner.” And if having lots of sex is important, then having a new partner is helpful—whether the couple is living together or apart.

However, not all having-a-partner relationships are the same. In a large-scale Canadian sample, clinical psychologist Fairbrother and colleagues concluded that it matters whether the relationship is “faithful” or “nonconsensual” (unfaithful). If the relationship is monogamous or open, it counted less than if the partners were consensual in their understanding of sexual and romantic agreements.

To cite a previous post based on research by Levine and colleagues: “It matters whether the partners agree that their relationship is open, or whether one partner is simply cheating about his/her sexual and romantic affairs and contacts.” Given the probability that most marriages are understood to be exempt from sexual and romantic encounters with others and that a larger percentage of cohabiting relationships are understood to be open to sex and romance with others might lead one to conclude that life satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, and sexual frequency might be highest among those who have a sexual/romantic partner, but are not married.

What does this say about marriage? Religious mandates to get married if you want to have sex? Did the U.S. Supreme Court do sexual-minority individuals a disservice by allowing them to marry? Is polyamory the ideal solution? For answers, well, I’m not touching those issues—at least now.

Facebook image: PR Image Factory/Shutterstock

References

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sex-sexuality-and-romance/201809/everything-you-need-know-about-open-relationships

Kislev, E. (2019). Does marriage really improve sexual satisfaction? Evidence From the Pairfam Data Set. Journal of Sex Research, online. doi:10.1080/00224499.2019.1608146

Fairbrother, N., Hart, T. A., & Fairbrother, M. (2019). Open relationship prevalence, characteristics, and correlates in a nationally representative sample of Canadian adults. Journal of Sex Research, 56, 695-704. doi:10.1080/00224499.2019.1580667

Levine, E. C., Herbenick, D., Martinez, O., Fu, T. C., & Dodge, B. (2018). Open relationships, nonconsensual nonmonogamy, and monogamy among U.S. adults: Findings from the 2012 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47, 1439-1450. doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1178-7