By Justin Dubé
This post is a summary of a recently published article from the CaSH Lab:
Rosen, N. O., Dubé, 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. The journal of sexual medicine.
Low sexual desire and/or arousal is one of the most common sexual complaints among women. Women who experience significant and prolonged distress about their low sexual interest and/or arousal may meet the criteria for Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder (FSIAD)1. Prior research suggests women with FSIAD experience problems in many areas of their lives. For example, women with FSIAD report more depression and lower sexual and relational satisfaction than women without sexual difficulties (i.e., controls). Because it is a new diagnosis, the scope of FSIAD’s consequences for couples is unknown. However, the disorder commonly occurs in the context of a relationship which suggests that partners also experience consequences.
Our goal was to see whether couples affected by FSIAD experience poorer sexual, relational, and psychological well-being than control couples. We were particularly interested in seeing whether well-being differed between partners of women with FSIAD and control partners for the following reasons:
1) No study has examined the implications of FSIAD for affected women’s romantic partners.
2) Understanding how this problem affects both members of the couple will inform the development of empirically-based couples interventions for FSIAD.
What we did
Members of our lab (a doctoral level clinical psychologist and two clinical psychology PhD students) interviewed candidates to see whether they met the criteria for FSIAD. In total, 97 women received a diagnosis of FSIAD. We then asked these women and their partners, as well as 108 control couples, to complete measures assessing aspects of their sexual, relational, and psychological well-being.
What we found
The partners of women with FSIAD were less satisfied with their sexual relationship, more sexually distressed, and had poorer sexual communication compared to control partners. We also found that male partners of women with FSIAD had poorer sexual functioning, reporting greater orgasmic and erectile difficulties than controls. Women with FSIAD reported more problems in all areas of their sexual well-being, including more difficulties with sexual desire, distress, satisfaction, arousal, pain, and communication compared to controls. Women with FSIAD also reported higher levels of depression and anxiety than controls. Finally, both members of couples with FSIAD were less satisfied with their relationship than control couples.
What does this mean?
Our findings suggest that the negative consequences of FSIAD extend beyond women coping with low desire to impact the sexual and relational well-being of their partners. This study yielded several interesting results. Below, I’ve summarized interpretations of two noteworthy findings:
– Partners of women with FSIAD reported poorer sexual well-being than control partners. When couples with FSIAD engage in sexual activity, it is possible that partners focus more on the sexual problem in their relationship than on feelings of pleasure. In turn, they may experience more sexual distress and poorer sexual functioning and satisfaction than control partners. This result highlights the interdependence of members involved in a sexual relationship.
– Both members of couples with FSIAD reported more difficulty with sexual communication than control couples, possibly reflecting fears of rejection or partners’ reluctance to pressure women with FSIAD for sex. This result is notable because previous research identified enhanced communication as a strategy that women in long term relationships employed to get their desire “back on track”2. Thus, improved sexual communication could be an important target for interventions aimed at helping couples adjust to, or overcome, clinically low sexual interest and/or arousal.
(pro tip: read the full article for an in-depth discussion of our findings!)
 American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Pub; 2013.
 Herbenick D, Mullinax M, Mark K. Sexual desire discrepancy as a feature, not a bug, of long‐term relationships: Women’s self‐reported strategies for modulating sexual desire. The journal of sexual medicine. 2014;11: 2196-206.