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Gratitude Enhances Our Desire to Fulfill Others Sexual Needs

Researchers examine the important yet overlooked link between gratitude and sex.

Pxhere Free Photo/ CCO Public Domain
Source: Pxhere Free Photo/ CCO Public Domain

Expressions of gratitude have been shown to have numerous psychological benefits. They facilitate social and emotional well-being. People who frequently express gratitude have fewer psychopathologies. Gratitude has even been shown to have beneficial physical health effects.

One study, for instance, found that keeping a gratitude journal improved diastolic blood pressure. Another study found that focusing on things to be grateful about before bed each night increased pre-sleep calmness.

But what is the connection between gratitude and sexual satisfaction in committed relationships? New research forthcoming in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science may have an answer.

Specifically, a team of psychologists led by Ashlyn Brady of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro tested whether frequent expressions of gratitude would increase couples' sexual satisfaction by improving the emotional connection they experienced in their relationships. They found this to be the case.

"Over the course of a relationship, most couples experience declines in sexual, and thus relational, satisfaction," state the researchers. "We predicted that gratitude would increase 'sexual communal strength' — that is, the extent to which people are motivated to be responsive to their partner’s sexual needs — because gratitude motivates partners to maintain close relationships. These predictions were supported."

To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers first recruited 118 couples to participate in a multi-month study. Participants were asked to report the level of gratitude they expressed and received for a 21-day period. They were also asked to report their degree of sexual satisfaction. The researchers then re-contacted participants three months later and asked them to complete the same measures. They found that changes in gratitude were closely associated with changes in sexual satisfaction. In other words, people were sexually satisfied to the extent that they expressed and received a high degree of gratitude with their partners.

A second experiment tested to see whether perceptions of gratitude, not necessarily gratitude itself, would also lead to improved relationship satisfaction. In this study, the researchers asked a group of participants to think of a recent moment they expressed gratitude toward, or received gratitude from, their romantic partner. They also asked a second group of participants to think about a positive experience that did not involve their romantic partner. Then, they had participants complete measures of sexual and relationship satisfaction. They found that people who had been asked to think about a recent moment in which they expressed or received gratitude were more likely to express satisfaction with the intimacy of their relationship.

The researchers believe this work may help therapists design more effective interventions for couples experiencing relationship difficulties, particularly in the sexual domain. They write, "Practitioners have often sought to identify ways in which couples can maintain, or even improve, sexual satisfaction. The current results suggest that gratitude may be a promising method for achieving that goal."

"Maintaining sexual satisfaction is a critical, yet challenging, aspect of most romantic relationships," conclude the researchers. "Results from these studies suggest that experiencing and receiving gratitude increased the motivation to meet a partner’s sexual needs."

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Brady, A., Baker, L. R., Muise, A., & Impett, E. A. (2020). Gratitude Increases the Motivation to Fulfill a Partner’s Sexual Needs. Social Psychological and Personality Science.