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Perceptions of Partner Sexual Satisfaction in Heterosexual Committed Relationships


Sexual script theory implies that partners’ ability to gauge one another’s level of sexual satisfaction is a key factor in determining their own sexual satisfaction. However, relatively little research has examined how well partners gauge one another’s sexual satisfaction and the factors that predict their accuracy. We hypothesized that the degree of bias in partner judgments of sexual satisfaction would be associated with quality of sexual communication. We further posited that emotion recognition would ameliorate the biases in judgment such that poor communicators with good emotion recognition would make less biased judgments of partner satisfaction. Participants were 84 married or cohabiting heterosexual couples who completed measures of their own and their partners’ sexual satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, quality of communication about sexual issues within their relationships, and emotion recognition ability. Results indicated that both men and women tended to be accurate in perceiving their partners’ levels of sexual satisfaction (i.e., partner perceptions were strongly correlated with self-reports). One sample t-tests indicated that men’s perceptions of their partners’ sexual satisfaction were biased such that they slightly underestimated their partners’ levels of sexual satisfaction whereas women neither over- nor underestimated their partners’ sexual satisfaction. However, the gender difference was not significant. Bias was attenuated by quality of sexual communication, which interacted with emotion recognition ability such that when sexual communication was good, there was no significant association between emotion recognition ability and bias, but when sexual communication was poor, better emotion recognition ability was associated with less bias.

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  1. Given that the men’s and women’s bias variables were calculated using their partners’ self-reported sexual satisfaction scores, it was not possible to examine the correlations between one’s own level of bias and one’s partner’s self-reported sexual satisfaction.

  2. To investigate the impacts of relationship satisfaction, relationship length, and gender on our results, we ran three additional models in which we separately included these variables as covariates. Including these variables did not influence the significance or direction of our findings. We further investigated the impact of gender with a model that included the main effect of gender and the relevant two-way and three-way interaction terms involving gender. None of the interaction terms were significant. Given that relationship satisfaction, relationship length, and gender did not influence our findings, we report on the more parsimonious model.


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This research was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSRHC) grant awarded to Christine Purdon, a SSRHC-CGS and an Ontario Graduate Scholarship awarded to Erin Fallis. This study was the Master’s thesis of the first author, completed under the supervision of the second and third authors.

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Correspondence to Erin E. Fallis.

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Fallis, E.E., Rehman, U.S. & Purdon, C. Perceptions of Partner Sexual Satisfaction in Heterosexual Committed Relationships. Arch Sex Behav 43, 541–550 (2014).

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  • Couples
  • Sexual satisfaction
  • Sexual communication
  • Emotion recognition