By Erin T. Fitzpatrick

This blog is a summary of our published article: Hogue, J. V., Rosen, N. O., Bockaj, A., Impett, E. A., & Muise, A. (2019). Sexual communal motivation in couples coping with low sexual interest/arousal: Associations with sexual well-being and sexual goals. PLoS ONE, 14(7), e0219768. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0219768

Did you know that nearly 25% of women experience low sexual desire? Up to 1/3 of those women also suffer from significant distress [1].  The combination of low sexual desire and/or arousal with distress is called Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder (FSIAD).  Women with FSIAD face many difficulties in their lives, relationships, and sexual well-being, including:

      • Decreased health-related quality of life;
      • Increased depressive symptoms;
      • Decreased sexual and relationship satisfaction.

Sexual activity is an important aspect of healthy relationships.  It’s impossible to understand the scope of the impact that FSIAD has without looking into how it can impact couples as a whole.  Women with FSIAD who have a partner are far more likely to experience distress than single women with FSIAD [1]. This may stem from a potential worry about letting their partner down or not fulfilling their partner’s needs because of their disorder.  Research on how FSIAD impacts partners of affected women is scarce.  What we do know, is that partners also experience lower sexual satisfaction, lower relationship satisfaction, and increased sexual distress [2].

Interestingly, many women with FSIAD continue to engage in sex [8]. This led us to wonder if the motivation that women with FSIAD have to continue sexual activity is associated with their partner’s sexual well-being.  We also wanted to know what impact continuing sexual activity would have on their own sexual well-being.

To answer these questions, it is important to understand sexual communal strength (SCS) and unmitigated sexual communion (USC) along with the roles they play on couples with FSIAD and their sexual goals.  SCS is the motivation to meet a partner’s sexual needs, while keeping your own needs in mind (e.g. making a genuine effort to understand and meet your partner’s sexual fantasies, within the realm of what you are comfortable with).  In contrast, USC is a focus on meeting a partner’s sexual needs, while leaving your own unmet (e.g. having sex to satisfy your partner even though you know you will not enjoy it).

We expected that when couples were high in SCS, both partners would report greater sexual well-being and stronger approach goals for sex, but when couples were higher in USC, both partners would report lower sexual well-being and stronger avoidance goals for sex.

Having sex more often is associated with increased relationship and sexual satisfaction [5]. We also know that people higher in SCS are more likely than people lower in SCS to engage in sex, even when their desire is low [4]. With this in mind, we also wanted to explore the relationship between SCS, USC, sexual well-being, and how often couples affected by FSIAD engage in sex.

What did we do?

97 women with FSIAD and their partners completed an online survey addressing their sexual and relationship well-being.  Couples completed their surveys separately, without discussing responses with each other. 

What did we find?

  • Couples coping with FSIAD, reporting high SCS…
    • Experience greater sexual satisfaction;
    • Experience greater sexual desire;
    • Have intercourse more for approach goals.
  • Couples coping with FSIAD, reporting high USC…
    • Showed higher sexual distress;
    • (Also engaging in frequent intercourse) exhibited lower sexual satisfaction.

SCS: motivated to meet a partner’s sexual needs, while keeping your own sexual needs in mind

USC: motivated to meet a partner’s sexual needs, while leaving your own sexual needs unmet

What does this mean?

Very little research on how FSIAD impacts partners in relationships has been done. We wanted to know what could allow protection against women’s low desire and the difficulties that couples with FSIAD face. These findings tell us that while focusing on your partners’ sexual needs are important, paying attention to your own body, desires, and well-being are just as imperative. This information is crucial for further development of couples-based intervention on coping with FSIAD.

References

[1] Rosen, R. C., Shifren, J. L., Monz, B. U., Odom, D.M., Russo, P. A., & Johannes, C. B. (2009). Correlates of sexually related personal distress in women with low sexual desire. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6(6), 1549–1560. https://doi.org/10. 1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01252.x 

[2] Rosen N. O., Dube, J. P., Corsini-Munt, S., & Muise, A. (2018). Partners experience consequences, too: A comparison of the sexual, relational, and psychological adjustment of women with Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder and their partners to control couples. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 16, 83-95. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2018.10.018

[3] Brotto, L. A., & Luria, M. (2014). Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder in women. In: Binik YM, KSK H, editors. Principles and practice of sex therapy. 5th ed. New York: Guilford Publications Inc.

 [4] Day, L. C., Muise, A., Joel, S., & Impett E. A. (2015). To do it or not to do it? How communally motivated people navigate sexual interdependence dilemmas. Personal Soc Psychol Bull, 41(6):791–804. 


[5] Impett, E. A., Muise, A., & Peragine, D. (2014). Sexuality in the context of relationships. In: APA handbook of sexuality and psychology, Vol 1: Person-based approaches. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.

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