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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
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.
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.
Ahlborg, T., Dahlof, L.-G., & Hallberg, L. (2005). Quality of the intimate and sexual relationship in first-time parents six months after delivery. Journal of Sex Research, 42, 167–174. doi:10.1080/00224490509552270.
Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. London: Sage Publications.
Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Hill, J., Raste, Y., & Plumb, I. (2001). The “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” test revised version: A study with normal adults and adults with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning Autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42, 241–251. doi:10.1111/1469-7610.00715.
Beach, S. R., & Broderick, J. E. (1983). Commitment: A variable in women’s response to marital therapy. American Journal of Family Therapy, 11, 16–24. doi:10.1080/01926188308250143.
Byers, E. S., & Demmons, S. (1999). Sexual satisfaction and sexual self-disclosure within dating relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 180–189. doi:10.1080/00224499909551983.
Catania, J. A. (1998). Dyadic Sexual Communication scale. In C. M. Davis, W. L. Yarber, R. Bauserman, G. Schreer, & S. L. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of sexuality-related measures (2nd ed.) (pp. 129–131). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Cupach, W. R., & Metts, S. (1991). Sexuality and communication in close relationships. In W. R. Cupach & S. Metts (Eds.), Sexuality in close relationships (pp. 93–110). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Dunn, K. M., Croft, P. R., & Hackett, G. I. (2000). Satisfaction in the sex life of a general population sample. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 25, 141–151. doi:10.1080/009262300278542.
Haavio-Mannila, E., & Kontula, O. (1997). Correlates of increased sexual satisfaction. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26, 399–419. doi:10.1023/A:1024591318836.
Heyman, R. E., Sayers, S. L., & Bellack, A. S. (1994). Global marital satisfaction versus marital adjustment: An empirical comparison of three measures. Journal of Family Psychology, 8, 432–446. doi:10.1037/0893-3188.8.131.522.
Hudson, W. W. (1993). Index of sexual satisfaction. In C. M. Davis, W. L. Yarber, R. Bauserman, G. Schreer, & S. L. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of sexuality-related measures (2nd ed.) (pp. 512–513). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Hudson, W. W., Harrison, D. F., & Crosscup, P. C. (1981). A short-form scale to measure sexual discord in dyadic relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 17, 157–174. doi:10.1080/00224498109551110.
Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J. H., Michael, R. T., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lawrance, K., & Byers, E. S. (1995). Sexual satisfaction in long-term heterosexual relationships: The interpersonal exchange model of sexual satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 2, 267–285. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.1995.tb00092.x.
MacNeil, S., & Byers, E. S. (2005). Dyadic assessment of sexual self-disclosure and sexual satisfaction in heterosexual dating couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22, 169–181. doi:10.1177/0265407505050942.
MacNeil, S., & Byers, E. S. (2009). Role of sexual self-disclosure in the sexual satisfaction of long-term heterosexual couples. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 3–14. doi:10.1080/00224490802398399.
Metts, S. & Cupach, W. R. (1989). The role of communication in human sexuality. In K. McKinney & S. Sprecher (Eds.), Human sexuality: The societal and interpersonal context (pp. 139–161). Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing.
Miller, S. A., & Byers, E. S. (2004). Actual and desired duration of foreplay and intercourse: Discordance and misperceptions within heterosexual couples. Journal of Sex Research, 41, 301–309. doi:10.1080/00224490409552237.
Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., Bellavia, G., Griffin, D. W., & Dolderman, D. (2002). Kindred spirits? The benefits of egocentrism in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 563–581. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2063.
Norton, R. (1983). Measuring marital quality: A critical look at the dependent variable. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 45, 141–151. doi:10.2307/351302.
Purnine, D. M., & Carey, M. P. (1997). Interpersonal communication and sexual adjustment: The roles of understanding and agreement. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 1017–1025. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.65.6.1017.
Sadler, P., & Woody, E. (2003). Is who you are who you’re talking to? Interpersonal style and complementarity in mixed-sex interactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 80–96. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.11.
Simon, W., & Gagnon, J. H. (1986). Sexual scripts: Permanence and change. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 15, 97–120. doi:10.1007/BF01542219.
Simms, D. C., & Byers, E. S. (2009). Interpersonal perceptions of desired frequency of sexual behaviours. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 18, 15–25. http://utpjournals.metapress.com/content/122833.
Watts, A. J., & Douglas, J. M. (2006). Interpreting facial expression and communication competence following severe traumatic brain injury. Aphasiology, 20, 707–722. doi:10.1080/02687030500489953.
Wiederman, M. W. (1999). Volunteer bias in sexuality research using college student participants. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 59–66. doi:10.1080/00224499909551968.
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.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Fallis, E.E., Rehman, U.S. & Purdon, C. Perceptions of Partner Sexual Satisfaction in Heterosexual Committed Relationships. Arch Sex Behav 43, 541–550 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-013-0177-y
- Sexual satisfaction
- Sexual communication
- Emotion recognition