Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 489–501 | Cite as

Does Sex Really Matter? Examining the Connections Between Spouses’ Nonsexual Behaviors, Sexual Frequency, Sexual Satisfaction, and Marital Satisfaction

  • Elizabeth A. Schoenfeld
  • Timothy J. Loving
  • Mark T. Pope
  • Ted L. Huston
  • Aleksandar Štulhofer
Original Paper

Abstract

We examined the interplay between husbands’ and wives’ positive and negative nonsexual interpersonal behaviors, frequency of sexual intercourse, sexual satisfaction, and feelings of marital satisfaction. To do this, we conducted an in-depth face-to-face interview and completed a series of telephone diaries with 105 couples during their second, third, and fourteenth years of marriage. Consistent with the argument that women’s sexual response is tied to intimacy (Basson, 2000), multilevel analyses revealed that husbands’ positive interpersonal behaviors directed toward their wives—but not wives’ positivity nor spouses’ negative behaviors (regardless of gender)—predicted the frequency with which couples engaged in intercourse. The frequency of sexual intercourse and interpersonal negativity predicted both husbands’ and wives’ sexual satisfaction; wives’ positive behaviors were also tied to husbands’ sexual satisfaction. When spouses’ interpersonal behaviors, frequency of sexual intercourse, and sexual satisfaction were considered in tandem, all but the frequency of sexual intercourse were associated with marital satisfaction. When it comes to feelings of marital satisfaction, therefore, a satisfying sex life and a warm interpersonal climate appear to matter more than does a greater frequency of sexual intercourse. Collectively, these findings shed much-needed light on the interplay between the nonsexual interpersonal climate of marriage and spouses’ sexual relationships.

Keywords

Sex Sexual satisfaction Marital satisfaction Interpersonal behaviors Marriage 

References

  1. Aubin, S., & Heiman, J. R. (2004). Sexual dysfunction from a relationship perspective. In J. H. Harvey, A. Wenzel, & S. Sprecher (Eds.), The handbook of sexuality in close relationships (pp. 477–517). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  2. Basson, R. (2000). The female sexual response: A different model. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 26, 51–65.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Basson, R. (2001). Human sex-response cycles. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 27, 33–43.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2004). Sexual economics: Sex as female resource for social exchange in heterosexual interactions. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8, 339–363.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Birnbaum, G. E., Mikulincer, M., & Austerlitz, M. (2013). A fiery conflict: Attachment orientations and the effects of relational conflict on sexual motivation. Personal Relationships, 20, 294–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Birnbaum, G. E., Reis, H. T., Mikulincer, M., Gillath, O., & Orpaz, A. (2006). When sex is more than just sex: Attachment orientations, sexual experience, and relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 929–943.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Blumstein, P., & Schwartz, P. (1983). American couples: Money, work, sex. New York: William Morrow.Google Scholar
  8. Bolger, N., Davis, A., & Rafaeli, E. (2003). Diary methods: Capturing life as it is lived. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 579–616.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Bolger, N., DeLongis, A., Kessler, R. C., & Schilling, E. A. (1989). Effects of daily stress on negative mood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 808–818.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Bradbury, T. N., Fincham, F. D., & Beach, S. R. H. (2000). Research on the nature and determinants of marital satisfaction: A decade in review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 964–980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brotto, L. A. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 221–239.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Butzer, B., & Campbell, L. (2008). Adult attachment, sexual satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction: A study of married couples. Personal Relationships, 15, 141–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Byers, E. S. (2005). Relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction: A longitudinal study of individuals in long-term relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 42, 113–118.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Byers, E. S., & Demmons, S. (1999). Sexual satisfaction and sexual self-disclosure within dating relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 180–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Call, V., Sprecher, S., & Schwartz, P. (1995). The incidence and frequency of marital sex in a national sample. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 57, 639–652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Campbell, A., Converse, P., & Rodgers, W. (1976). Quality of American life: Perception, evaluation, and satisfaction. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  17. Campbell, L., Martin, R. A., & Ward, J. R. (2008). An observational study of humor use while resolving conflict in dating couples. Personal Relationships, 15, 41–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Carvalheira, A., Brotto, L. A., & Leal, I. (2010). Women’s motivations for sex: Exploring the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fourth edition, text revision criteria for hypoactive sexual desire and female sexual arousal disorders. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 1454–1463.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Caughlin, J. P., & Huston, T. L. (2002). A contextual analysis of the association between demand/withdraw and marital satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 9, 95–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Caughlin, J. P., & Huston, T. L. (2010). The flourishing field of flourishing relationships. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 2, 25–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Caughlin, J. P., Huston, T. L., & Houts, R. M. (2000). How does personality matter in marriage? An examination of trait anxiety, interpersonal negativity, and marital satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 326–336.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Christopher, F. S., & Kisler, T. S. (2004). Exploring marital sexuality: Peeking inside the bedroom and discovering what we don’t know—but should! In J. H. Harvey, A. Wenzel, & S. Sprecher (Eds.), The handbook of sexuality in close relationships (pp. 371–384). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  23. Christopher, F. S., & Sprecher, S. (2000). Sexuality in marriage, dating, and other relationships: A decade review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 999–1017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Davis, D., Shaver, P. R., & Vernon, M. L. (2004). Attachment style and subjective motivations for sex. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 1076–1090.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. DeLamater, J. (1987). Gender differences in sexual scenarios. In K. Kelley (Ed.), Females, males and sexuality: Theories and research (pp. 127–129). Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  26. DeLamater, J., & Hyde, J. (2004). Conceptual and theoretical issues in studying sexuality in close relationships. In J. Harvey, A. Wenzel, & S. Sprecher (Eds.), The handbook of sexuality in close relationships (pp. 7–30). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  27. Diamond, L. M., & Huebner, D. M. (2012). Is good sex good for you? Rethinking sexuality and health. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6, 54–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Edwards, J. N., & Booth, A. (1976). Sexual behavior in and out of marriage: An assessment of correlates. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 38, 73–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Elliott, S., & Umberson, D. (2008). The performance of desire: Gender and sexual negotiation in long-term marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 391–406.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  30. Fahs, B., & Swank, E. (2011). Social identities as predictors of women’s sexual satisfaction and sexual activity. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 903–914.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Feeney, J. A. (2002). Attachment, marital interaction, and relationship satisfaction: A diary study. Personal Relationships, 9, 39–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Finkel, S. E. (1995). Causal analysis with panel data. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Fisher, T. D., & McNulty, J. K. (2008). Neuroticism and marital satisfaction: The mediating role played by the sexual relationship. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 112–122.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Floyd, K., Hess, J. A., Miczo, L. A., Halone, K. K., Mikkelson, A. C., & Tusing, K. J. (2005). Human affection exchange: VIII. Further evidence of the benefits of expressed affection. Communication Quarterly, 53, 285–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gathome-Hardy, J. (2000). Alfred C. Kinsey: Sex the measure of all things. A biography. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press (Originally published, 1998).Google Scholar
  36. Haning, R. V., O’Keefe, S. L., Randall, E. J., Kommor, M. J., Baker, E., & Wilson, R. (2007). Intimacy, orgasm likelihood, and conflict predict sexual satisfaction in heterosexual male and female respondents. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 33, 93–113.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Hassebrauck, M., & Fehr, B. (2002). Dimensions of relationship quality. Personal Relationships, 9, 253–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hayes, R. D. (2011). Circular and linear modeling of female sexual desire and arousal. Journal of Sex Research, 48, 130–141.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Heldman, C., & Wade, L. (2010). Hook-up culture: Setting a new research agenda. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 7, 323–333.Google Scholar
  40. Henderson-King, D. H., & Veroff, J. (1994). Sexual satisfaction and marital well-being in the first years of marriage. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 11, 509–534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hetherington, E. M. (2003). Intimate pathways: Changing patterns in close personal relationships across time. Family Relations, 52, 318–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Horan, S. M., & Booth-Butterfield, M. (2010). Investing in affection: An investigation of affection exchange theory and relational qualities. Communication Quarterly, 58, 394–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hurlbert, D. F., Apt, C., & Rabehl, S. M. (1993). Key variables to understanding female sexual satisfaction: An examination of women in nondistressed marriages. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 19, 154–165.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Huston, T. L. (2009). What’s love got to do with it? Why some marriages succeed and others fail. Personal Relationships, 16, 301–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Huston, T. L., Caughlin, J. P., Houts, R. M., Smith, S., & George, L. J. (2001). The connubial crucible: Newlywed years as predictors of marital delight, distress, and divorce. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 237–252.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Huston, T. L., Robins, E., Atkinson, J., & McHale, S. M. (1987). Surveying the landscape of marital behavior: A behavioral self-report approach to studying marriage. In S. Oskamp (Ed.), Family processes and problems: Social psychological aspects (pp. 45–72). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  47. Huston, T. L., & Vangelisti, A. L. (1991). Socioemotional behavior and satisfaction in marital relationships: A longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 721–733.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Impett, E. A., Strachman, A., Finkel, E. J., & Gable, S. L. (2008). Maintaining sexual desire in intimate relationships: The importance of approach goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 808–823.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Johnson, M. D., Cohan, C. L., Davila, J., Lawrence, E., Rogge, R. D., Karney, B. R., … Bradbury, T. N. (2005). Problem-solving skills and affective expressions as predictors of change in marital satisfaction. Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 73, 15–27.Google Scholar
  50. Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: A review of theory, method, and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118, 3–34.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Kenny, D. A., Kashy, D. A., & Cook, W. L. (2006). Dyadic data analysis. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  52. Kenny, D. A., Korchmaros, J. D., & Bolger, N. (2003). Lower level mediation in multilevel models. Psychological Methods, 8, 115–128.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Knobloch, L. K. (2007). Perceptions of turmoil within courtship: Associations with intimacy, relational uncertainty, and interference from partners. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24, 363–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J. H., Michael, R. T., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  55. Leiblum, S. R. (1998). Definition and classification of female sexual disorders. International Journal of Impotence Research, 10, S104–106.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Lyons, K., & Sayer, A. G. (2005). Longitudinal dyad models in family research. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 1048–1060.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. McCarthy, B. (2003). Marital sex as it ought to be. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 14, 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. McCarthy, B. W. (1999). Relapse prevention strategies and techniques for inhibited sexual desire. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 25, 297–303.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. McCarthy, B. W., Bodnar, L., & Handal, M. (2004). Integrating sex therapy and couple therapy. In J. H. Harvey, A. Wenzel, & S. Sprecher (Eds.), The handbook of sexuality in close relationships (pp. 573–593). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  60. McNulty, J. K., Wenner, C. A., & Fisher, T. D. (2014). Longitudinal associations among relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, and frequency of sex in early marriage. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0444-6.Google Scholar
  61. Meltzer, A. L., & McNulty, J. K. (2010). Body image and marital satisfaction: Evidence for the mediating role of sexual frequency and sexual satisfaction. Journal of Family Psychology, 24, 156–164.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  62. Metz, M. E., & Epstein, N. (2002). Assessing the role of relationship conflict in sexual dysfunction. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 28, 139–164.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Miller, P. J. E., Caughlin, J. P., & Huston, T. L. (2003). Trait expressiveness and marital satisfaction: The role idealization processes. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 65, 978–995.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Pascoal, P. M., Narisco, I. S. B., & Pereira, N. M. (2014). What is sexual satisfaction? Thematic analysis of lay people’s definitions. Journal of Sex Research, 51, 22–30.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Peplau, L. A., Fingerhut, A., & Beals, K. P. (2004). Sexuality in the relationships of lesbians and gay men. In J. Harvey, A. Wenzel, & S. Sprecher (Eds.), Handbook of sexuality in close relationships (pp. 350–369). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  66. Rao, K. V., & DeMaris, A. (1995). Coital frequency among married and cohabiting couples in the United States. Journal of Biosocial Science, 27, 135–150.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Raudenbush, S. W., Brennan, R. T., & Barnett, R. C. (1995). A multivariate hierarchical model for studying psychological change within married couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 9, 161–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Renaud, C., Byers, E. S., & Pan, S. (1997). Sexual and relationship satisfaction in mainland China. Journal of Sex Research, 34, 399–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Richters, J., de Visser, R., Rissel, C., & Smith, A. (2006). Sexual practices at last heterosexual encounter and occurrence of orgasm in a national survey. Journal of Sex Research, 43, 217–226.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Ridley, C. A., Cate, R. M., Collins, D. M., Reesing, A. L., & Lucero, A. A. (2006). The ebb and flow of marital lust: A relational approach. Journal of Sex Research, 43, 144–153.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Ridley, C., Ogolsky, B., Payne, P., Totenhagen, C., & Cate, R. (2008). Sexual expression: Its emotional context in heterosexual, gay, and lesbian couples. Journal of Sex Research, 45, 305–314.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  72. Robins, E. R. (1985). A theoretical and empirical investigation of compatibility testing in marital choice. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park.Google Scholar
  73. Rubin, H., & Campbell, L. (2012). Day-to-day changes in intimacy predict heightened relationship passion, sexual occurrence, and sexual satisfaction: A dyadic diary analysis. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 224–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rubin, L. B. (1976). Worlds of pain: Life in the working-class family. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  75. Russell, V. M., & McNulty, J. K. (2011). Frequent sex protects intimates from the negative implications of their neuroticism. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2, 220–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Sassler, S., Addo, F. R., & Lichter, D. T. (2012). The tempo of sexual activity and later relationship quality. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 708–725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Schnarch, D. M. (1997). Passionate marriage: Sex, love, and intimacy in emotionally committed relationships. New York: Owl Books.Google Scholar
  78. Schoenfeld, E. A., Bredow, C. A., & Huston, T. L. (2012). Do men and women show love differently in marriage? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 1396–1409.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  79. Schwartz, P., & Rutter, V. (1998). The gender of sexuality. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge.Google Scholar
  80. Sims, K. E., & Meana, M. (2010). Why did passion wane? A qualitative study of married women’s attributes for declines in desire. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 36, 360–380.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  81. Sprecher, S. (1998). Social exchange theories and sexuality. Journal of Sex Research, 35, 32–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Sprecher, S. (2002). Sexual satisfaction in premarital relationships: Associations with satisfaction, love, commitment and stability. Journal of Sex Research, 39, 190–196.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  83. Štulhofer, A., Buško, V., & Brouillard, P. (2010). Development and bicultural validation of the New Sexual Satisfaction Scale. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 257–268.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  84. Terman, L. M. (1938). Psychological factors in marital happiness. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  85. Theiss, J. A., & Nagy, M. E. (2010). Actor-partner effects in the associations of between relationship characteristics and reactions to marital sexual intimacy. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27, 1089–1109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Tiefer, L. (1991). Historical, scientific, clinical, and feminist criticisms of “The human sexual response cycle” model. Annual Review of Sex Research, 2, 1–23.Google Scholar
  87. Wells, B. E., & Twenge, J. M. (2005). Changes in young people’s sexual behavior and attitudes, 1943–1999: A cross-temporal meta-analysis. Review of General Psychology, 9, 249–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Whitley, M. P. (1998). Sexual satisfaction inventory. In C. M. Davis, W. L. Yarber, R. Bauserman, G. Schreer, & S. L. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of sexuality-related measures (pp. 519–521). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  89. Yeh, H.-C., Lorenz, F. O., Wickrama, K. A. S., Conger, R. D., & Elder, G. H. (2006). Relationships among sexual satisfaction, marital quality, and marital instability at midlife. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 339–343.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  90. Yucel, D., & Gassanov, M. A. (2010). Exploring actor and partner correlates of sexual satisfaction among married couples. Social Science Research, 39, 725–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth A. Schoenfeld
    • 1
    • 2
  • Timothy J. Loving
    • 2
  • Mark T. Pope
    • 2
  • Ted L. Huston
    • 2
  • Aleksandar Štulhofer
    • 3
  1. 1.Youth & Family Alliance dba LifeWorksAustinUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human Development & Family SciencesThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of ZagrebZagrebCroatia

Personalised recommendations