Women’s ability to desire and enjoy sex has been largely disregarded throughout history. For centuries, women in the Western world were restricted in their ability to engage in and enjoy sexual activities so much so that they had to go to their doctor to seek “treatment” (aka a genital massage) for their sexual frustration [1, 2]. Thankfully, we have (more or less) come around to realize that women can desire and enjoy sex as much as men, and that all people deserve to be sexually satisfied. With this shift in thinking, research has started looking more closely at sexual satisfaction and what it means to be sexually satisfied.
So what is sexual satisfaction all about?
What does ‘sexual satisfaction’ actually mean?
One of the most popular and widely-used definitions of sexual satisfaction comes from Lawrance and Byers (big names in the sexual satisfaction game), who state that sexual satisfaction is “an affective response arising from one’s subjective evaluation of the positive and negative dimensions associated with one’s sexual relationship” .
To put it more simply: sexual satisfaction is how you feel about your sex life when you consider the good things about it, and the bad.
In the general public, feeling sexually satisfied may vary between people, depending on what areas of sexuality are most important to each person. Overall though, being satisfied with your sex life involves experiencing positive feelings towards your own sexuality (such as pleasure and desire) and your sexual relationship (such as feeling close to and bonding with your partner).
Is sexual satisfaction even that important?
The short answer: YES! So much so that the World Health Organization has declared sexual satisfaction as a sexual right! 
Sexual satisfaction has important implications not just for your sexual wellbeing, but also for your personal and relationship wellbeing. In particular:
Individuals who are sexually satisfied report a higher quality of life, with better overall health and wellbeing than individuals with lower sexual satisfaction . For new mothers in particular, feeling sexually satisfied is related to better psychological health, such as lower depression and anxiety . So make sure to take full advantage of baby’s naptime.
For both men and women, sexual satisfaction is also strongly related to relationship quality. Indeed, individuals who are more satisfied with their sex life are also more satisfied with their relationship, more committed to their relationship, and feel more love for their partner .
Sexual satisfaction is also related to greater sexual wellbeing. Individuals who are sexually satisfied generally report greater desire, arousal, and orgasm consistency . However, sexual functioning (that is feeling desire, getting aroused and ‘wet’, reaching orgasm, and not feeling pain) does not always predict sexual satisfaction . The good news then is that even if you experience sexual problems, you can still feel sexually satisfied!
What influences sexual satisfaction?
Sexual satisfaction is related to many areas of your life . Here are some things that may contribute to feeling more or less sexually satisfied:
Greater sexual satisfaction:
- Living with a partner
- Being married or in an exclusive relationship
- Having greater relationship intimacy and satisfaction
- Having low sexual guilt or internalized homophobia
- Being sexually assertive
- Having sex more often
- Engaging in a greater variety of sexual behaviours
- Having good partner and social support
Lower sexual satisfaction:
- Feeling sexually distressed (feeling worried, frustrated, and/or anxious about your sex life)
- Having symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Being stressed
- Having sexual difficulties (vaginal dryness, erectile dysfunction, pain during sex)
What can I do to improve my sexual satisfaction?
The short answer: communicate & cuddle.
Communication may be more simply said then done, but research has shown that individuals in both dating and long-term relationships who talk to their partner about their sexual likes and dislikes report greater sexual satisfaction [11, 12]. So don’t be afraid to tell your partner where you like being kissed (and where you don’t).
Your post-sex routine may also contribute to your sexual satisfaction. Recent research has found that individuals who cuddle, kiss, and talk intimately after sex report greater satisfaction with their sexual and romantic relationship . So, don’t be so quick to leave the bed (or the couch or the floor… or wherever you ended up!).
- Baumeister, R. F., & Twenge, J. M. (2002). Cultural suppression of female sexuality. Review of General Psychology, 6, 166-203.
- Maines, R. P. (1999). The job nobody wanted. In The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction (pp. 1-20). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Lawrance, K. & Byers, E. S. (1995). Sexual satisfaction in long-term heterosexual relationships: The Interpersonal Exchange Model of Sexual Satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 2, 267-285.
- Pascoal, P. M., Narciso, I. S. B., & Pereira, N. M. (2014). What is sexual satisfaction? Thematic analysis of lay people’s definitions. The Journal of Sex Research, 51, 22-30.
- World Health Organization (2010). Measuring sexual health: Conceptual and practical considerations and related indicators. Available from: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2010/who_rhr_10.12_eng.pdf
- Davison, S. L., Bell, R. J., LaChina, M., Holden, S. L., & Davis, S. R. (2009). The relationship between self-reported sexual satisfaction and general well-being in women. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 2690–2697.
- Huang, Y. C., & Mathers, N. J. (2006). A comparison of sexual satisfaction and post-natal depression in the UK and Taiwan. International Nursing Review, 53, 197-204.
- Sprecher, S. (2002). Sexual satisfaction in premarital relationships: Associations with satisfaction, love, commitment, and stability. The Journal of Sex Research, 3, 190-196.
- Sánchez-Fuentes, M., Santos-Iglesias, P., & Sierra, J. C. (2014). A systematic review of sexual satisfaction. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 14, 67-75.
- Ferenidou, F., Kapoteli, V., Moisidis, K., Koutsogiannis, I., Giakoumelos, A., & Hatzichristou, D. (2008). ORIGINAL RESEARCH—WOMEN’S SEXUAL HEALTH: Presence of a sexual problem may not affect women’s satisfaction from their sexual function. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5, 631-639.
- MacNeil, S., & Byers, E. S. (2005). Dyadic assessment of sexual self-disclosure and sexual satisfaction in heterosexual dating couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22, 169-181.
- MacNeil, S., & Byers, E. S. (2009). Role of sexual self-disclosure in the sexual satisfaction of long-term heterosexual couples. The Journal of Sex Research, 46, 3-14.
- Muise, A., Giang, E., Impett, E. A. (2014). Post sex affectionate exchanges promote sexual and relationship satisfaction. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 1391-1402.
Image source: Flickr user Nena B