Does Sexual Satisfaction Change With Relationship Duration?

Abstract

Despite a large body of empirical literature on sexual satisfaction, its development over the course of a relationship is still unclear. Only a small number of studies, most of which have relied on cross-sectional data of convenience samples, have explicitly focused on relationship duration, and empirical evidence is mixed. We analyzed how sexual satisfaction changes over the course of a relationship using three waves of the German Family Panel study (pairfam). We concentrated our analyses on young and middle-aged heterosexual individuals in committed relationships (N = 2,814) and applied fixed effects regression models, which have the advantage of estimations based on changes within individuals over time. We found a positive development of sexual satisfaction in the first year of a relationship, followed by a steady decline. This pattern persisted even when controlling for the frequency of intercourse, although the effects were, in part, mediated by intercourse frequency. We explained the non-linear effect of relationship duration on sexual satisfaction with an initial learning effect regarding partner-specific sexual skills, which is then outweighed by a decline in passion at later stages of a relationship. Moreover, we found significant effects for the control variables of health status, intimacy in couple communication, and conflict style, as expected. In contrast to past research, however, cohabitation and marriage were not found to play a role for sexual satisfaction in our data. Further research is required to deepen the understanding of the reasons why sexual satisfaction changes with relationship duration.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We lost 174 persons due to inconsistencies (e.g., if the reported duration of marriage was greater than the reported duration of the relationship). Further, 258 persons were lost due to missing values in the dependent variable and an additional 358 due to missing values in one of the independent variables.

  2. 2.

    Time-constant variables can only be incorporated in a fixed effects model as part of an interaction with a time-varying variable (e.g., when modeling gender-specific age effects).

  3. 3.

    This result held also when only relationship duration, both partners’ age, month of interview, and wave was controlled for (not shown).

  4. 4.

    In the models in Table 2, we do not distinguish between male and female age but included only one variable for the participant and the partner, respectively. But allowing for differences between men and women did not yield significant results either.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Klaus Pforr for his advice in methodological questions. This article used data from the German Family Panel (pairfam), coordinated by Josef Brüderl, Karsten Hank, Johannes Huinink, Bernhard Nauck, Franz Neyer, and Sabine Walper. pairfam is funded as long-term project by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

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Correspondence to Jette Schröder.

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Schmiedeberg, C., Schröder, J. Does Sexual Satisfaction Change With Relationship Duration?. Arch Sex Behav 45, 99–107 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0587-0

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Keywords

  • Sexual satisfaction
  • Relationship duration
  • Learning effect
  • Intimacy
  • Panel analysis