Sexual Satisfaction and Relationship Happiness in Midlife and Older Couples in Five Countries

Abstract

Sexuality research focuses almost exclusively on individuals rather than couples, though ongoing relationships are very important for most people and cultures. The present study was the first to examine sexual and relationship parameters of middle-aged and older couples in committed relationships of 1–51 years duration. Survey research was conducted in Brazil, Germany, Japan, Spain, and the U.S. targeting 200 men aged 40–70 and their female partners in each country, with 1,009 couples in the final sample. Key demographic, health, physical intimacy, sexual behavior, sexual function, and sexual history variables were used to model relationship happiness and sexual satisfaction. The median ages were 55 for men and 52 for women; median relationship duration was 25 years. Relationship satisfaction in men depended on health, physical intimacy, and sexual functioning, while in women only sexual functioning predicted relationship satisfaction. Models predicting sexual satisfaction included significant physical intimacy and sexual functioning for both genders and, for men, more frequent recent sexual activity and fewer lifetime partners. Longer relationship duration predicted greater relationship happiness and sexual satisfaction for men. However, women in relationships of 20 to 40 years were significantly less likely than men to report relationship happiness. Compared to men, women showed lower sexual satisfaction early in the relationship and greater sexual satisfaction later. Within the long-term committed relationship context, there were significant gender differences in correlates of sexual and relationship satisfaction, with sexual functioning a common predictor of both types of satisfaction and physical intimacy a more consistent and salient predictor for men.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For further details about the questionnaire or to request a copy of the questionnaire, please contact the corresponding author.

  2. 2.

    An ideal measure of duration would include both years cohabitating and later years married; however, the survey questions did not guarantee mutual exclusivity. For example, for an individual who reported 10 years of marriage and 10 years of cohabitation, we were unable to determine with certainty whether these years were contemporaneous making relationship duration 10 years total or additive making duration 20 years total, or a combination thereof.

  3. 3.

    A total of 21 participants reported no male or female lifetime sexual partners. We confirmed that these participants were in relationships and that they had been sexually active (via other variables, such as reports of age of first sex or frequency of sex over the past four weeks) and these cases were assigned a value of 1.

  4. 4.

    Of the 108 men who reported “Never or almost never ejaculating,” 96 reported “Never or almost never ejaculating too quickly.”

  5. 5.

    The significance of the difference in predicted probabilities depends both on the magnitude of the difference but also on factors such as the number of cases at a given level of the independent variable.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by an independent investigator-initiated grant from Bayer-Schering. Sampling and data collection fieldwork were performed by Synovate Healthcare. The design, conceptualization, analysis, and interpretation of the results were the sole product of discussions among the co-authors, represent the consensus of the co-authors, and have not been subject to editorial revision by Bayer-Schering. Johanna Salazar provided valuable assistance with article preparation.

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Correspondence to Julia R. Heiman.

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Heiman, J.R., Long, J.S., Smith, S.N. et al. Sexual Satisfaction and Relationship Happiness in Midlife and Older Couples in Five Countries. Arch Sex Behav 40, 741–753 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-010-9703-3

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Keywords

  • Couples
  • Midlife
  • Sexual satisfaction
  • Relationship happiness
  • Sexual function
  • Physical intimacy