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Sexuality Within Female Same-Gender Couples: Definitions of Sex, Sexual Frequency Norms, and Factors Associated with Sexual Satisfaction

Abstract

Despite a growing number of female same-gender (FSG) relationships, couples-based research and interventions have focused primarily on mixed-gender couples. Consequently, research has applied a heteronormative lens to understanding some relationship factors, including sexuality. The current study sought to provide descriptive data regarding frequency and conceptualizations of sex across partners in FSG relationships, as well as to analyze how relationship factors are associated with sexual satisfaction in this population. Participants (N = 206) were 103 adult FSG couples who had been together for at least 2 months. Individuals provided self-report data on how they conceptualized sex, and actor–partner models were utilized to assess relationship factors associated with sexual satisfaction. Findings indicated that women in FSG relationships hold broad definitions of sex, with the majority of behaviors conceptualized as sex, including acts that involved partnered genital touching. In dyadic actor–partner models, sexual satisfaction was predicted by several factors including sexual frequency, emotional intimacy, and sexual intimacy. Unexpectedly, higher desired sexual frequency was associated with lower sexual satisfaction; however, this finding only emerged after controlling for actual sexual frequency, suggesting that discrepancies between desired and actual sex frequency may be important for FSG couples. Implications for clinical practice with FSG couples are explored, including a strength-based focus on broad conceptualizations of sex within this population and targeting relationship factors associated with sexual satisfaction.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We primarily refer to “female same-gender” couples to indicate couples in which both partners indicate their self-identified gender as female. We believe this term is preferable to “same-sex couples” or “lesbian couples” because sex refers to biological sex, and lesbian refers to sexual orientation, while the current study was primarily focused on the self-identified gender of each partner. Similarly, we primarily refer to couples composed of as one man and one woman as “mixed-gender” couples. We refer to terminology used in previous research where appropriate.

  2. 2.

    During the course of study recruitment, civil unions and domestic partnerships were available at the local state-level. Legal marriage was not available at the federal or local state-level but was available in various other states.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded by the Roy Scrivner Memorial Research Grant from the American Psychological Foundation awarded to the first author.

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Correspondence to Shelby B. Scott.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Scott, S.B., Ritchie, L., Knopp, K. et al. Sexuality Within Female Same-Gender Couples: Definitions of Sex, Sexual Frequency Norms, and Factors Associated with Sexual Satisfaction. Arch Sex Behav 47, 681–692 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-017-1077-3

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Keywords

  • Sexual satisfaction
  • Same-sex couples
  • Lesbianism
  • Sexual minority women
  • Sexual norms
  • Sexual orientation