Who is the “Self” in Self Reports of Sexual Satisfaction? Research and Policy Implications

Article

Abstract

Federal policies that guide clinical trial design exert an often unseen influence in people’s lives. Taking a closer look at the US Food and Drug Administration’s guidance in the field of female sexual dysfunction, this paper examines how sexual satisfaction is increasingly used to guide clinical interventions; however, questions remain about the social psychological qualities of this appraisal. The current mixed methods study pairs interview data with close-ended measures of sexual satisfaction in order to examine the cognitive and interpersonal strategies individuals used when they were asked to assess their own sexual satisfaction (N = 41). While researchers often assume that responses in self-report measures are reflections of an intra-individual reflective process, findings demonstrated that women and sexual minority men often reported on their partner’s sexual satisfaction instead of their own. Taking up the question of who is the “self” in self-reports of sexual satisfaction, this study explores the clinical, research, and policy implications of relying on sexual satisfaction as a meaningful indicator of change or well-being in an individual’s life.

Keywords

Sexual satisfaction Subjectivity Mixed methods Gender LGBT Sexual rights 

References

  1. Arrington, R., Confrancesco, J., & Wu, A. W. (2004). Questionnaires to measure sexual quality of life. Quality of Life Research, 13(10), 1643–1658.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bakhtin, M. (1981). The dialogic imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  3. Barreras, R. E. & Massey, S. G. (2011) Impact validity as a framework for advocacy-based research. Journal of Social Issues. (in press)Google Scholar
  4. Barrientos, J. E., & Páez, D. (2006). Psychosocial variables of sexual satisfaction in Chile. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 32(5), 351–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Basson, R. (2000). The female sexual response: a different model. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 26(1), 51–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bay-Cheng, L., Robinson, A., & Zucker, A. (2009). Behavioral and relational contexts of adolescent desire, wanting, and pleasure: undergraduate women’s retrospective accounts. Journal of Sex Research, 46(6), 511–524.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Benjamin, J. (1998). Shadow of the other: intersubjectivity and gender in psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Billig, M., Condor, S., Edwards, D., Gane, M., Middleton, D., & Radley, A. (1989). Ideological dilemmas: a social psychology of everyday thinking. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  9. Bliss, W. J., & Horne, S. G. (2005). Sexual satisfaction as more than a gendered concept: the roles of psychological well-being and sexual orientation. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 18(1), 25–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Boehringer Ingelheim, Briefing Document (June 18, 2010). Flibanserin Tablet. NDA 22–526. Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee Meeting. Accessed online July 6, 2010: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AdvisoryCommittees/CommitteesMeetingMaterials/Drugs/ReproductiveHealthDrugsAdvisoryCommittee/UCM215438.pdf.
  11. Burkitt, I. (2010). Dialogues with self and others: communication, miscommunication, and the dialogical unconscious. Theory & Psychology, 20, 305–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Byers, E. (2005). Relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction: a longitudinal study of individuals in long-term relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 42(2), 113–118.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cantril, H. (1965). The patterns of human concerns. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Carpenter, L. M. (2010). Toward a social science of sexual satisfaction: Commentary on “virginity lost, satisfaction gained? Physiological and psychological sexual satisfaction at heterosexual debut” by Jenny A. Higgins, James Trussell, Nelwyn B. Moore, and J. Kenneth Davidson. Journal of Sex Research. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/00224491003774875
  15. Carpenter, L. M., Nathanson, C. A., & Kim, Y. J. (2009). Physical women, emotional men: gender and sexual satisfaction in midlife. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38(1), 87–107.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chodorow, N. (1978). The reproduction of mothering: psychoanalysis and the sociology of gender. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  17. Colson, M. H., Lemaire, A., Pinton, P., Hamidi, K., & Klein, P. (2006). Sexual behaviors and mental perception, satisfaction and expectations of sex life in men and women in France. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 3(1), 121–131.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Conrad, F. G., & Schober, M. F. (2008). New frontiers in standardized survey interviewing. In S. N. Hesse-Biber & P. Leavy (Eds.), Handbook of emergent methods (pp. 363–387). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  19. Creswell, J. W., Plano Clark, V. L., Gutmann, M., & Hanson, W. (2003). Advanced mixed methods research designs. In A. Tashakkori & C. Teddlie (Eds.), Handbook on mixed methods in the behavioral and social sciences (pp. 209–240). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  20. Cronbach, L. J., & Meehl, P. E. (1955). Construct validity in psychological tests. Psychological Bulletin, 52(4), 281–302.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Currie, D. H. (1998). Violent men or violent women? Whose definition counts? In R. K. Bergen (Ed.), Issues in intimate violence (pp. 97–111). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  22. Daker-White, G., & Donovan, J. (2002). Sexual satisfaction, quality of life and the transaction of intimacy in hospital patients’ accounts of their (hetero)sexual relationships. Sociology of Health & Illness, 24(1), 89–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Danziger, K. (1997). The historical formation of selves. In: R.D. Ashmore and L. Jussim (Eds.), Self and identity: Fundamental issues (pp. 137–159). Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Deenen, A. A., Gijs, L., & van Naerssen, A. X. (1994). Intimacy and sexuality in gay male couples. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 23(4), 421–431.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. DeLamater, J. (1991). Emotions and sexuality. In K. McKinney & S. Sprecher (Eds.), Sexuality in close relationships (pp. 49–70). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.Google Scholar
  26. Dennerstein, L., Koochaki, P., & Barton, I. (2006). Hypoactive sexual desire disorder in menopausal women: a survey of western European women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 3(2), 212–222.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Diamond, L. M., & Lucas, S. (2004). Sexual-minority and heterosexual youths’ peer relationships: experiences, expectations, and implications for well-being. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 14(3), 313–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125(2), 276–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Diener, E., Oishi, S., & Lucas, R. E. (2003). Personality, culture, and subjective well-being: emotional and cognitive evaluations of life. Annual Review of Psychology, 54(1), 403.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Drewery, W. (2005). Why we should watch what we say: Position calls, everyday speech and the production of relational subjectivity. Theory & Psychology, 15, 305–324.Google Scholar
  31. Epstein, M., Calzo, J. P., Smiler, A. P., & Ward, L. (2009). “Anything from making out to having sex”: men’s negotiations of hooking up and friends with benefits scripts. Journal of Sex Research, 46(5), 414–424.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Fahs, B. (2011). Performing sex. New York: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  33. Fahs, B. & Swank, E. (2010). Social identities as predictors of women’s sexual satisfaction and sexual activity. Archives of Sexual Behavior, online first: http://www.springerlink.com/content/nr2337u521q108u2/fulltext.pdf
  34. Fernández-Ballesteros, R., & Botella, J. (2008). Self-report measures. In A. M. Nezu & M. Nezu (Eds.), Evidence-based outcome research: a practical guide to conducting randomized controlled trials for psychosocial interventions. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Fine, M., & McClelland, S. I. (2006). Sexuality education and desire: still missing after all these years. Harvard Educational Review, 76(3), 297–338.Google Scholar
  36. Fine, M., & McClelland, S. I. (2007). The politics of teen women’s sexuality: Public policy and the adolescent female body. Emory Law Journal, 56(4), 993–1038.Google Scholar
  37. Flax, J. (1990). Thinking fragments: Psychoanalysis, feminism, and postmodernism in the contemporary west. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  38. Food and Drug Administration (FDA, 2000). 2000 Draft Guidance for Industry Female Sexual Dysfunction: Clinical Development of Drug Products for Treatment. Division of Reproductive and Urologic Drug Products (DRUDP) in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/ScienceResearch/SpecialTopics/WomensHealthResearch/ucm133202.htm
  39. Freeman, M. (2007). Narrative and relation: the place of the other in the story of the self. In R. Josselson, A. Lieblich, & D. P. McAdams (Eds.), The meaning of others: narrative studies of relationships. Washington: APA Press.Google Scholar
  40. Frith, H., & Kitzinger, C. (2001). Reformulating sexual script theory: developing a discursive psychology of sexual negotiation. Theory & Psychology, 11(2), 209–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Fugl-Meyer, K. S., Oberg, K., Lundberg, P. O., Lewin, B., & Fugl-Meyer, A. (2006). On orgasm, sexual techniques, and erotic perceptions in 18- to 74-year-old Swedish women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 3, 56–68.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Gagnon, J. H., & Simon, W. (Eds.). (1970). The sexual scene. New York: Aldine Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  43. Galasiński, D., & Kozłowska, O. (2010). Questionnaires and lived experience: strategies of coping with quantitative frame. Qualitative Inquiry, 16(4), 271–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Gergen, K. (2001). The saturated self: dilemmas of identity in contemporary life. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  45. Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice: psychological theory and women’s development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Graham, C. A. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for female orgasmic disorder. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(2), 256–270.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Guest, G., Bunce, A., & Johnson, L. (2006). How many interviews are enough?: An experiment with data saturation and variability. Field Methods, 18, 59–82.Google Scholar
  48. Harris, K.M., Halpern, C.T. Whitsel, E. Hussey, J. Tabor, J. Entzel, P., & Udry. J.R. (2009). The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health: Wave III Codebooks. Retrieved from http://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/addhealth/codebooks/wave3.
  49. Henderson-King, D., & Veroff, J. (1994). Sexual satisfaction and marital well-being in the first years of marriage. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 11(4), 509–534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Herek, G. M. (2007). Confronting sexual stigma and prejudice: theory and practice. Journal of Social Issues, 63(4), 905–925.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Hermans, H. J. M. (2001). The dialogical self: toward a theory of personal and cultural positioning. Culture & Psychology, 7, 243–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Hermans, H. J. M. (2002). The dialogical self as a society of mind: Introduction. Theory & Psychology, 12, 147–160.Google Scholar
  53. Holland, J., Ramasanoglu, C., & Sharpe, S. (2004). The male in the head: young people, heterosexuality and power. London: Tufnell Press.Google Scholar
  54. Holmberg, D., & Blair, K. L. (2009). Sexual desire, communication, satisfaction, and preferences of men and women in same-sex versus mixed-sex relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 46(1), 57–66.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Horne, S., & Zimmer-Gembeck, M. (2006). The female sexual subjectivity inventory: development and validation of a multidimensional inventory for late adolescents and emerging adults. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30(2), 125–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Hudson, W. W., Harrison, D. F., & Croscup, P. C. (1981). A short-form scale to measure sexual discord in dyadic relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 17(2), 157174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Impett, E. A., & Tolman, D. L. (2006). Late adolescent girls’ sexual experiences and sexual satisfaction. Journal of Adolescent Research, 21(6), 628–646.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). (2008). Sexual rights: an IPPF Declaration. Retrieved from http://www.ippfwhr.org/sites/default/files/files/SexualRightsIPPFdeclaration.pdf
  59. Ivankova, N. V., Creswell, J. W., & Stick, S. L. (2006). Using mixed-methods sequential explanatory design: from theory to practice. Field Methods, 18, 3–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Josselson, R. (2004). The hermeneutics of faith and the hermeneutics of suspicion. Narrative Inquiry, 14(1), 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Kaschak, E., & Tiefer, L. (2001). A new view of women’s sexual problems. New York: The Haworth Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  62. Kitzinger, C., & Wilkinson, S. (1997). Validating women’s experience? Dilemmas in feminist research. Feminism & Psychology, 7(4), 566–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Kurdek, L. (1991). Sexuality in homosexual and heterosexual couples. In K. McKinney & S. Sprecher (Eds.), Sexuality in close relationships (pp. 177–191). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.Google Scholar
  64. 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.Google Scholar
  65. Lawrance, K., & Byers, E. S. (1992). Development of the interpersonal exchange model of sexual satisfaction in long term relationships. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 1(3), 123–128.Google Scholar
  66. Lawrance, K., & Byers, E. S. (1995). Sexual satisfaction in long-term heterosexual relationships: the interpersonal exchange model of sexual satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 2(4), 267–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Layton, L. (2002). Gendered subjects, gendered agents: toward an integration of postmodern theory and relational analytic practice. In M. Dimen & V. Goldner (Eds.), Gender in psychoanalytic space: between clinic and culture (pp. 285–312). New York: Other Press.Google Scholar
  68. Lever, J. (1994). Sexual revelations: the 1994 Advocate survey of sexuality and relationships: the men. The Advocate, 661(662), 16–24.Google Scholar
  69. Lieblich, A., & Josselson, R. (1994). Exploring identity and gender: the narrative study of lives (Vol. 2). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  70. Lloyd, E. A. (2005). The case of the female orgasm: bias in the science of evolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Marecek, J., Finn, S. E., & Cardell, M. (1983). Gender roles in the relationships of lesbians and gay men. Journal of Homosexuality, 8(2), 45–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. McAdams, D. P. (2001). The psychology of life stories. Review of General Psychology, 5(2), 100–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. McClelland, S. I. (2010). Intimate justice: a critical analysis of sexual satisfaction. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4(9), 663–680.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. McClelland, S. I., & Fine, M. (2008). Writing on cellophane: studying teen women’s sexual desires; inventing methodological release points. In K. Gallagher (Ed.), The methodological dilemma: creative, critical and collaborative approaches to qualitative research (pp. 232–260). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  75. McClelland, S. I., & Opotow, S. (2011). Studying injustice in the macro and micro spheres: four generations of social psychological research. In P. Coleman (Ed.), Conflict, interdependence and justice: the intellectual legacy of Morton Deutsch (pp. 119–145). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  76. Messick, S. (1980). Test validity and the ethics of assessment. American Psychologist, 35(11), 1012–1027.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Meston, C., & Trapnell, P. (2005). Development and validation of a five-factor sexual satisfaction and distress scale for women: the sexual satisfaction scale for women (SSS-W). The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2, 66–81.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Morse, J. (1994). Designing funded qualitative research. In N. Denzin, & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook for Qualitative Research (pp. 220–235). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  79. Nicolson, P., & Burr, J. (2003). What is “normal” about women’s (hetero)sexual desire and orgasm?: a report of an in-depth interview study. Social Science & Medicine, 57, 1735–1745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Pachucki, M. A., & Breiger, R. L. (2010). Cultural holes: Beyond relationality in social networks and culture. Annual Review of Sociology, 36, 205–224.Google Scholar
  81. Peplau, L. A., & Spalding, L. R. (2000). The close relationships of lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. In C. Hendrick & S. S. Hendrick (Eds.), Close relationships: a sourcebook (pp. 111–123). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  82. Plano Clark, V. L., Huddleston-Casas, C. A., Churchill, S. L., Green, D. O., & Garrett, A. L. (2008). Mixed methods approaches in family science research. Journal of Family Issues, 29, 1543–1566.Google Scholar
  83. Purdon, C., & Holdaway, L. (2006). Non-erotic thoughts: content and relation to sexual functioning and sexual satisfaction. Journal of Sex Research, 43(2), 154–162.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Raggatt, P. T. F. (2007). Forms of positioning in the dialogical self: a system of classification and the strange case of Dame Edna Everage. Theory & Psychology, 17, 355–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Raggatt, P. T. F. (2010). Essay review: the self positioned in time and space: dialogical paradigms. Theory & Psychology, 20(3), 451–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Richardson, D. (2000). Constructing sexual citizenship: theorizing sexual rights. Critical Social Policy, 20, 105–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Rossi, A. S. (1994). Sexuality across the life course. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  88. Sanchez, D. T., Crocker, J., & Boike, K. R. (2005). Doing gender in the bedroom: investing in gender norms and the sexual experience. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1445–1455.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Sánchez, F. J., Greenberg, S. T., Liu, W., & Vilain, E. (2009). Reported effects of masculine ideals on gay men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 10(1), 73–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Schwartz, P., & Young, L. (2009). Sexual satisfaction in committed relationships. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 6, 1–17.Google Scholar
  91. Schwarz, N. (2007). Retrospective and concurrent self-reports: the rationale for real-time data capture. In A. A. Stone, S. Shiffman, A. Atienza, & L. Nebeling (Eds.), The science of real-time data capture: self-reports in health research. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  92. Schwarz, N., & Sudman, S. (1994). Autobiographical memory and the validity of retrospective reports. New York: Springer Verlag.Google Scholar
  93. Shiloh, S., Koren, S., & Zakay, D. (2001). Individual differences in compensatory decision-making style and need for closure as correlates of subjective decision complexity and difficulty. Personality and Individual Differences, 30(4), 699–710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Sprecher, S. (2002). Sexual satisfaction in premarital relationships: associations with satisfaction, love, commitment, and stability. Journal of Sex Research, 39(3), 190–196.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Sprecher, S., & Cate, R. M. (2004). Sexual satisfaction and sexual expression as predictors of relationship satisfaction and stability. In J. H. Harvey, A. Wenzel, S. Sprecher, J. H. Harvey, A. Wenzel, & S. Sprecher (Eds.), The handbook of sexuality in close relationships (pp. 235–256). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.Google Scholar
  96. Sudman, S., Bradburn, N. M., & Schwarz, N. (1996). Thinking about answers: the application of cognitive processes to survey methodology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  97. Thompson, S. (1995). Going all the way: teenage girls’ tales of sex, romance, and pregnancy. New York: Hill and Wang.Google Scholar
  98. Tiefer, L. (2000). Sexology and the pharmaceutical industry: the threat of co-optation. Journal of Sex Research, 37, 273–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Tiefer, L. (2001). Arriving at a ‘new view’ of women’s sexual problems: background, theory, and activism. Women & Therapy, 24(1–2), 63–98.Google Scholar
  100. Tolman, D. L. (1994). Doing desire: adolescent girls’ struggles for/with sexuality. Gender and Society, 8(3), 324–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Tolman, D. L. (2002). Dilemmas of desire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  102. Tolman, D. L. (2005). Found(ing) discourses of desire: unfettering female adolescent sexuality. Feminism & Psychology, 15(1), 5–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Tunuguntla, H. S. (2006). Female sexual dysfunction following vaginal surgery: a review. The Journal of Urology, 175(2), 439.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Wilson, D. (June 16, 2010a). Maker plays up sexual disorder, with a pill in waiting. The New York Times. Accessed online July 6, 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/17/business/17sexpill.html?_r=1
  105. Wilson, D. (June 18, 2010b). F.D.A. panel opposes sexual desire drug for women. The New York Times. Accessed online July 6, 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/19/business/19sexpill.html
  106. Winnicott, D. W. (1953). Transitional objects and transitional phenomena: a study of the first not-me possession. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 34, 89–97.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Society of Fellows, Psychology and Women’s StudiesUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations