By Emma Drudge

This blog is a summary of our published article: Bockaj, A., Rosen, N. O., & Muise, A. (2019). Sexual motivation in couples coping with female sexual interest/arousal disorder: A comparison with control couples, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 45(8), 796-808, http://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2019.1623356

Everyone has different motivations for having sex—maybe you enjoy sex because it makes you feel closer to your partner, or maybe it is your favourite way to relieve stress after a long day. Research has shown that the reasons couples feel motivated to have sex are related to levels of desire and satisfaction within the relationship. Having sex to pursue positive outcomes (such as pleasure or connection) is related to higher levels of desire and satisfaction [1, 2]. (See our previous blog post on this here!) Couples also report high levels of sexual satisfaction when their primary motivation to have sex is to meet the needs of their partner; this is often referred to in research literature as sexual communal strength [1]. Other motivations, in contrast, are shown to have a negative impact on satisfaction in romantic relationships. For example, having sex to avoid negative outcomes—called avoidance sexual goals—is related to lower levels of desire and satisfaction in long-term couples [1, 2]. In other words, a person’s reasons and motivations for having sex matter! Researchers and clinicians need to take this into account when considering sexual satisfaction in couples.

We were interested in whether or not motivations for sex were different in couples when a woman in the partnership is dealing with low levels of sexual interest and/or arousal. A woman may be diagnosed with a sexual dysfunction called Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder (FSIAD) if she has been experiencing low levels of interest and/or arousal for an extended period and has feelings of distress about this sexual problem. Around 33% of women experience low sexual desire [3], with 8% reaching what would be considered a clinically low level of arousal [5]. As you can see, these challenges are common, and the difficulties associated with FSIAD tend to affect both the woman experiencing it and her partner. Sexual distress, difficulty with orgasm, and lower overall satisfaction in the relationship are just a few of the negative consequences that may be at play for couples dealing with this dysfunction [4].

The goal of this study was to examine whether motivations for sex were different in couples coping with FSIAD.

Understanding motivations for sex in couples dealing with FSIAD could help researchers better understand this sexual challenge, and help clinicians provide more effective support and treatment for couples dealing with this sexual dysfunction. 

What did we do?

205 couples (97 with FSIAD and 108 with no sexual dysfunctions) in long-term relationships completed an online survey assessing their sexual motivations, sexual communal strength, and sexual desire.

 

What did we find?

We found that compared to women without a sexual dysfunction, women with FSIAD tended to have higher sexual avoidance goals. They also reported lower sexual communal strength and lower approach goals, meaning they were less likely to have sex to pursue positive goals like intimacy or pleasure in their relationship. The same was true when comparing women with FSIAD to their own partners.

What does it mean?

What can we do with this information? Imagine someone dealing with low sexual arousal who is having sex because they’re worried their partner will fall out of love with them if they don’t. This is an example of an avoidance goal. It’s possible that with these new findings a clinician could help identify this tendency, and work to reduce the negative impact of avoidance sexual goal for the couple. This is exciting because it is the first time approach-avoidance goals and sexual communal strength have been studied in couples with FSIAD; the findings will help researchers and clinicians develop effective treatments for couples dealing with these challenges.

 Another important implication of this study is that it suggests sexual motivations are a potential factor underlying this dysfunction. Although we cannot definitively say that sexual motivations cause FSIAD, this research does set the stage for future work to explore that possibility.  

References

[1] 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. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(6), 791–804. doi:10.1177/0146167215580129

[2] Muise, A., Bergeron, S., Impett, E. A., & Rosen, N. O. (2017). The costs and benefits of sexual communal motivation for couples coping with vulvodynia. Health Psychology: Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 36(8), 819–827. doi:10.1037/hea0000470

[3] 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 Sex Medicine, 6(6), 1549–1560. doi:10. 1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01252.x

[4] Rosen, N. O., Dubé, J., Corsini-Munt, S., & Muise, A. (2019). Sexual, relational, and psychological adjustment of women with sexual interest/arousal disorder and their partners: A comparison to control couples. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 16(1), 83–95. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2018.10.018

[5] West, S. L., D’Aloisio, A. A., Agans, R. P., Kalsbeek, W. D., Borisov, N. N., & Thorp, J. M. (2008). Prevalence of low sexual desire and hypoactive sexual desire disorder in a nationally representative sample of US women. Archives of Internal Medicine, 168(13), 1441–1449. doi:10.1001/archinte.168.13.1441

 

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