How is the motivation to meet a partner’s sexual needs associated with sexual, relationship and psychological well-being?

A Brief Communication from Amy Muise, First Author on these Papers

A recent 60-day study in our lab examined the costs and benefits of being motivated to meet a partner’s sexual needs in a sample of couples in which the woman was diagnosed with provoked vestibulodynia (PVD; pain during sex). We tested whether sexual communal strength—being responsive to a partner’s sexual needs—and unmitigated sexual communion—focusing on a partner’s sexual needs to the exclusion of one’s own needs—were associated with sexual, relationship and psychological well-being.

What did we find?

On days when women were higher in sexual communal strength, both the women and their partners reported better sexual function (i.e., were more turned on during sex and found sex more pleasurable) and greater sexual satisfaction, and their partners reported being more satisfied in the relationship. Women also reported feel less anxious on these days and experienced less pain during sex. Partners’ sexual communal strength was important too. On days when the partners of women with PVD reported higher sexual communal strength, both partners reported better sexual function, partners reported greater sexual satisfaction and the women felt more satisfied in their relationship.

Although there were benefits to being a communal sexual partner, when this motivation to meet a partner’s sexual needs was taken too far and a person neglected their own needs, they no longer reaped these benefits and instead experienced costs. On days when women were higher in unmitigated sexual communion, they had poorer sexual function (i.e., were not turned on and enjoyed sex less), reported lower sexual satisfaction, felt more distressed about their sex life and both partners were less satisfied with the relationship. Women’s higher unmitigated communion was also associated with experiencing more pain during sex and higher anxiety, and with both partners reporting more depressive symptoms.

In sum, being motivated to be responsive to a partner’s sexual needs has benefits for both partners’ sexual and relationship well-being, but if this motivation neglects one’s own needs, it can be detrimental for couples’ sex life and relationship and both partners psychological well-being.

For more information see:

Muise, A.,Bergeron, S., Impett, E. A., Delisle, I., & Rosen, N. O. (2018). Communal motivation in couples coping with vulvodynia: Sexual distress mediates associations with pain, depression, and anxiety. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 106, 34-40.

Muise, A., Bergeron, S., Impett, E. A., Rosen, N. O. (2017). The costs and benefits of sexual communal motivation for couples coping with vulodynia. Health Psychology, 36, 819-827.