sexual satisfaction refers to a positive subjective evaluation of one’s sexual relationship. An important question is whether sexual satisfaction can be predicted; and if so, what would be its strongest predictor.
Published in the May issue of Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, a paper by Vowels et al. examines individual and relational factors in order to identify the strongest predictor of sexual satisfaction.
Individual and relational factors as predictors of sexual satisfaction
Sample: 891 (31% male, 3% genderqueer); average age of 33 years old; 88% White; 54% straight, 21% bisexual, 11% gay, and 7% lesbian; 36% married, 27% cohabiting, 19% in a relationship, and 12% single. Average relationship length of 6.2 years.
- Demographic questions (eg, related to sexual orientation, religion, relationship status, children), and questions about contraceptive use, sexual behaviors (eg, oral sex, intercourse, masturbation), physical and mental health, etc.
- Sexual satisfaction: Evaluated using the General Measure of Sexual Satisfaction Scale.
- Relationship satisfaction: Assessed using the General Measure of Relationship Satisfaction.
- Sexual desire: Measured with the Sexual Desire Inventory and Halbert Index for Sexual Desire.
- Dispositional mindfulness: Evaluated using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire—Short form. Its five subscales are non-reactivity, observing, describing, acting with awareness, and non-judgmental attitude.
- Attitudes toward sexuality: Evaluated with the Attitudes Toward Sexuality Scale.
- Perception of love and sex: Assessed using the Perception of Love and Sex Scale, which has four subscales—sex demonstrates love, sex is declining, love is most importantand love comes before sex,
- Attachment style: Measured using the Experience in Close Relationships Scale–Short form.
Sample: 955 (42% male, 1% genderqueer); average age of 31 years old; 87% White; 56% straight, 41% bisexual; 60% married. Average relationship length of 7.4 years.
Most variables were those used in the first sample, with the addition of the Romantic Love Scale to assess romantic love (eg, exclusiveness, dependency, and affiliative needs).
Predicting sexual satisfaction
Analysis of data showed it is possible to predict 48-62% of the “variance in sexual satisfaction using a random forest algorithm, up to two to three times more than previous studies even after deleting relationship satisfaction from the model.”
The results indicated that, across both samples, relationship satisfaction was the best predictor of sexual satisfaction, Also predictive, but to a lesser extent, were solitary and dyadic desire.
Moreover, Sample 1 participants who viewed sex as a central part of their relationship and participants who had intercourse on a regular basis reported higher satisfaction. In Sample 2, the same was true for those who experienced higher levels of romantic love toward their partner and frequently engaged in more diverse sexual behaviors (eg, mutual masturbation, oral sex).
The data also suggest the existence of gender differences in predictors of sexual satisfaction. For instance, attachment avoidance (ie fear and discomfort with intimacy and closeness) affected women significantly more than men; women who had higher levels of attachment avoidance experienced lower sexual satisfaction.
Partner variables were also predictive. For female participants, their romantic partner’s “sexual satisfaction was just as important a predictor for their own sexual satisfaction than their relationship satisfaction.” For men, the romantic partner’s sexual satisfaction mattered much less. Why? Perhaps because women, unlike men, are socially expected to prioritize their boyfriend’s or husband’s pleasure.
Sexual satisfaction is a major contributor to relationship satisfaction and well-being.
The studies reviewed here found that who you are (eg, in terms of gender, sexual orientation, religiousness, attitudes, mental illness) is not as predictive of sexual satisfaction as are your relationship and sexual activities as a couple.
Specifically, an analysis of data on 377 couples concluded: The most powerful predictors of sexual satisfaction are relationship variables such as relationship satisfaction, romantic love, dyadic sexual desire, and the perceived importance of sex in the relationship.
So, given the above finding, what are some ways to improve sexual satisfaction? Here are a few suggestions to help you and your partner:
- How satisfied are you (both) in the relationship? For instance, has the relationship met your expectations and needs? Does it make you feel loved, happy, and content?
- Compare your perceptions of the connection between love and sex. Do you both believe, for instance, that sex demonstrates love? And is sex more enjoyable when you love each other?
- Make sure sex is a core element of the relationship, not something separate or extra added to the relationship only once in a while.
- Discuss how to expand your sexual repertoire. This includes using new and varied erotic material or sexual techniques and activities. Remember to expand your repertoire gradually and to respect each other’s sexual boundaries.