By Emma Young
“For better or worse, romantic partners usually have to rely heavily on each other to meet their sexual needs.” So begins a new paper that tries to close a gap in the understanding of sexual ideals – and what could buffer against dissatisfaction if the reality does not quite match.
In addition to being common, sexual incompatibilities are difficult to resolve with couples therapy, noted York University’s Rhonda N. Balzarini and colleagues at the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Interpersonal Relationships and Group Processes. Even so, there was limited work to understand exactly what constitutes an individual’s ideal sex life. Previous work has generally focused on narrow issues such as: B. How often a person ideally wants to have sex, or at levels of sexual desire. For this new research, the team developed a broader 30-point scale for sexual ideals that asks about certain behaviors (“My partner does oral sex with me as often as I want my ideal partner to do”), but also about the importance of feeling safe and in love or, for example, dirty talk.
The first study involved 207 members of mixed-sex couples from Canada and the United States who had been in a relationship for at least four months. Both members of each couple attended. In addition to the new scale for sexual ideals, they independently measured sexual satisfaction, satisfaction with the relationship, commitment to their partner and also their “sexual strength in the community”. Someone with high sexual community strength is more motivated to meet the needs of their partner “even if those needs are different from their own”. Such a person is likely to be perceived as more responsive even if their partner’s sexual ideals are not being met.
Unsurprisingly, this first study showed that both people and their partner reported lower levels of sexual and relationship satisfaction when people reported unfulfilled sexual ideals in their relationship. However, among those with unfulfilled sexual ideals, people with a sexually communal partner reported higher levels of both types of satisfaction. The results for men and women were very similar.
The team also conducted daily diary-based studies that showed that on days when people reported having more unfulfilled sexual ideals than usual, both they and their partner had lower levels of sexual satisfaction and engagement with regard to relationships and engagement reported. There were also long-term effects: more unfulfilled sexual ideals over a period of three weeks were associated with a decrease in both types of satisfaction for both partners three months later. The results could not be explained by participants’ reports of sexual frequency or levels of sexual desire.
This study suggests that people have ideals about their sexual relationship – and if those ideals are not met, there are negative consequences. However, the data again suggested that having a sexually communal partner mitigated this. In a final experimental study, the team found that participants who were led to believe that their sexual ideals were not being met reported lower levels of both types of satisfaction just when they rated their partner low for community sexual strength, but not when that score was high.
People with sexually communal partners may not feel that their sexual ideals are being fully met, but their partner’s behavior could make this feel less of a problem, the researchers suggest. Perhaps their partner will support them when they reject their sexual advances or are more willing to compromise or offer other forms of affection when they are not interested in sex.
According to the team, interventions to combat sexual tolerance are rare. Since the new study suggests that if both members of a couple try harder to respond, it could reduce or even overcome relationship difficulties caused by mismatched sexual ideals, it suggests at least one approach to try.
– The disadvantages of unfulfilled sexual ideals and the buffering effect of the sexual strength of the community.
Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) works at BPS Biomedarticles