Women’s Relationship Satisfaction is “Contextual”

Oct 26, 2010 • News, Research

“We’ve assumed for so long that for both men and women, [sexual] problems were always depressing,” says Kyle Stephenson, a University of Texas at Austin doctoral candidate in psychology. Stephenson recently published a paper on the topic of sexual dissatisfaction, and believes that their survey data proves that sexual dissatisfaction may not necessarily engender great distress. For women, stress seems to come from a variety of factors.

Leonard Derogatis, director of the Center for Sexual Medicine at Sheppard Pratt Health System, believes the reason dysfunction and distress don’t match in women with problems is that the average woman’s sexual desire is “more contextual” than that of a man’s, meaning: it depends on a lot of other aspects of her relationship.

“Women might be having sex for a dozen different reasons, only one of which might be that it feels good and is satisfying,” Derogatis said. “It’s a path to intimacy, it’s a path to fulfilling a role of the woman or wife, it’s a means to keeping her partner happy, and on and on.”

It was that “context” that Stephenson and his study’s co-author, UT Austin psychologist, Cindy Meston investigated in their survey of 200 heterosexual undergrad women. Their results concluded that a woman’s distress with sexual problems is related to her approach in relationships and her level of intimacy with her partner.

Do women in relationships where they are open and trust their partners feel less distress? To a point. Stephenson noted that only women who were anxious about their attachment to their partners found intimacy soothing when they encountered sexual dysfunction in their relationships. In women who were more secure about their relations, however, the intimacy did nothing to soothe their concerns about sexual dissatisfaction.

It may be that women who are anxious about their relationship are so relieved to have intimacy, they ignore problems in bed, Stephenson said. The women who are secure, on the other hand, might put a higher priority on sex.

The study was published in August in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Information from LifeScience.