Most people would consider wanting to please one’s sexual partner to be an essential part of good sex, but can it be potentially detrimental? A study published in The Journal of Sex Research suggests that being willing to please a partner at the expense of one’s own sexual needs is associated with decreased desire and pleasure.
Romantic relationships can play a very significant role in many people’s lives. People who are in healthy relationships can reap benefits from receiving support, affection, and intimacy from their partner, which can contribute to increased happiness, and even better health outcomes. Healthy partnerships include consideration and communication of each partner’s needs, including sexually.
Sexual communal strength is a term to describe the motivation to be responsive to the sexual needs of a partner, and unmitigated sexual communion refers to the motivation to attend to a partner’s sexual needs while neglecting one’s own sexual needs. The motivations behind sexual behaviors can be profoundly linked to satisfaction associated with sex and relationships.
In their study, Ariel Shoikhedbrod and colleagues explored self-determined reasons for engaging in sex and how those reasons are related to sexual satisfaction. They utilized 103 couples for a cross-sectional study (Study 1) and 147 couples for a longitudinal study (Study 2) to explore sexual self-determination and satisfaction.
In Study 1, participants were recruited both online and from community locations in North America. All participants needed to be adults, fluent in English, be together for at least 6 months, and see each other at least 4 times per week within the month prior to the study. Participants completed measures on sexual communal motivation, reasons for engaging in sex, relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, and sexual desire online.
In Study 2, participants were recruited from across Canada online. All participants had to have been in a relationship for 2 or more years and spend at least 5/7 nights of the week together. Participants completed a 15-minute survey for 21 days straight before bed and then completed a 3-month follow up survey. At baseline, participants completed measures on sexual communal motivation, relationship and sexual satisfaction, and sexual desire.
For the next 21 consecutive days, participants completed measures on self-determined reasons for engaging in sex, sexual satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, and sexual desire. The follow-up measures after 3 months were the same as the baseline measures.
Results from Study 1 showed that people with higher sexual communal strength were more satisfied with their relationships, sex life, and experienced more sexual desire. Additionally, they reported autonomous reasons for engaging in sexual activity. In contrast, people who were higher in unmitigated sexual communion showed lower sexual desire and reported that they engaged in sex for more controlled reasons but did not significantly differ in satisfaction.
Results from Study 2 replicated and expanded upon results from Study 1 by exploring daily fluctuations. Participants in Study 2 who were high in sexual communal strength reported more autonomous and less controlled reasons for engaging in sex, while participants who were high in unmitigated sexual communion reported more controlled reasons for engaging in sex.
Days where participants reported more autonomous reasons for sex, they also reported greater sexual and relationship satisfaction, as well as increased sexual desire. These results suggest that autonomous reasons for having sex are associated with better relationship and sexual outcomes and are encouraged by having higher sexual communal strength. Additionally, having sex for autonomous reasons leads to higher satisfaction for sexual partners as well.
“Unique to Study 2, partners of people higher in unmitigated sexual communion also endorsed more controlled reasons for engaging in sex across the 21-day period and, in turn, experienced lower satisfaction three months later,” the researchers noted.
This study took interesting steps into better understanding how motivations for having sex and responsivity to partner’s needs can affect sexual and relational satisfaction. This study took a very thorough approach by including a cross-sectional and longitudinal aspect. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that all measures were self-report and are subject to bias. Additionally, the participants were predominantly white, cisgender, and in heterosexual presenting relationships; future research could use a more diverse sample.
“By integrating communal and self-determined theories of sexual motivation in romantic relationships, the current research identified autonomous and controlled reasons for engaging in sex as mechanisms accounting for the divergent associations between sexual communal strength and unmitigated sexual communion with satisfaction and desire,” the researchers concluded.
“The findings highlight that genuinely choosing to be responsive to a partner’s sexual needs offers relationship and sexual benefits for both partners, whereas feeling compelled to be responsive to a partner’s sexual needs by sacrificing one’s own needs can backfire with costs to both partner’s relationship and sexual well-being.”
The study, “Being Responsive and Self-Determined When it Comes to Sex: How and Why Sexual Motivation is Associated with Satisfaction and Desire in Romantic Relationships“, was authored by Ariel Shoikhedbrod, Natalie O. Rosen, Serena Corsini-Munt, Cheryl Harasymchuk, Emily A. Impett, and Amy Muise.