Sex and Affection in Heterosexual and Homosexual Couples: An Evolutionary Perspective

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Sexuality and sexual satisfaction are fundamental aspects of marriages and close relationships and are related to overall couple happiness and durability. The identification of factors that promote close relationship satisfaction and stability is crucial to the understanding of marital functioning, and it has been consistently demonstrated that sexual satisfaction figures prominently as a predictor of global marital satisfaction and distress (Sprecher & Cate, 2004; Liu, 2003; Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Laumann et al., 1994; Bridges et al., 2004; Hassebrauck & Fehr, 2002). Yet, relationship scientists have neglected the subject of marital and close relationship sexuality although marriage represents the only context that is universally accepted as a context for sexual relationships and expression (Christopher & Kisler, 2004). Sexual behaviors and attitudes outside the context of a close relationship are more likely to be investigated than those within one (Call et al., 1995; Trudel, 2002; Greenblat, 1982).

Likewise, research on sexuality in close relationships has too often focused on Caucasian, middle-class American samples and cannot provide a coherent understanding of sexuality within a variety of close relationships. Investigations of sexuality within lesbian, gay male, and ethnically diverse relationships are even scarcer than the database on heterosexual, Caucasian couple samples, making it difficult to fully generalize what little is known about close relationship sexuality.

Additionally, most studies of sexual satisfaction in close relationships are primarily limited to reports of coital frequency, which are erroneously employed as sole indicators of overall sexual and marital health. Research reveals that although coital rates decline with the relationship's duration, this decrease does not necessarily affect couples' sexual satisfaction. Likewise, current conceptualizations and research of sexuality only identify a meager number of behaviors as "sexual." However, behaviors of physical affection, such as hugging, kissing, eye contact, and holding hands, in addition to genital sex, may enhance and contribute to the experience of physical intimacy and sexual satisfaction in the daily life of a relationship (DeLamater & Hyde, 2004).

Lastly, it is essential that current frameworks of marital and close relationship sexuality expand to incorporate biological theoretical models of sex. Evolutionary psychology maintains that humans have evolved the capability to create relationships and sexual satisfaction in relationships in order to insure reproductive success. When couples are both satisfied with their relationship and sexually satisfied, they increase the chances of transmitting their genes to subsequent generations. Specifically, sexual strategies theory, as defined by David Buss, argues that females should be more satisfied with both sex and their relationships when their male partners behave lovingly and affectionately with them, and these caring men, in turn, are more likely to be more satisfied with a high frequency of sexual activity in order to ensure reproductive success (Buss, 1994, in Sprecher & Cate, 2004).

The current study aimed to contribute to this burgeoning area of research by investigating cross-sectionally the linkage between sexual satisfaction, satisfaction with physical affection, sexual jealousy, and relationship satisfaction, and examine whether these interconnections vary with gender. Specifically, this study looked at the strength of associations between individuals' reports of the frequency and acceptability of partners' behaviors (i.e. physical and verbal affection, sexual activity, and inappropriate sexual behavior with another person), and explored how these associations changed with gender. Additionally, this study endeavored to analyze how different types of relationships (heterosexual and homosexual) diverge and correspond to one another in terms of biological gender, and how these interactions parallel and possibly substantiate evolutionary theory. …