Academic journal article
By Holmberg, Diane; Blair, Karen L.; Phillips, Maggie
The Journal of Sex Research , Vol. 47, No. 1
Elaine describes herself as being extremely sexually satisfied in her relationship with her partner Chris (i.e., she subjectively evaluates their sexual relationship very positively). Knowing this piece of information, what would be the best prediction about Elaine's relationship well-being (e.g., relationship satisfaction, love, trust), her mental health (e.g., depression, anxiety, stress), or her physical health (e.g., minor physical ailments, self-reported general health). In other words, exactly how strong are the connections between women's sexual satisfaction and other aspects of their subjective well-being? Would we expect those connections to be stronger, or weaker, if Elaine's partner Chris happened to be another woman, versus a man (i.e., is sexual satisfaction a better predictor of subjective well-being for women in same-sex relationships or in mixed-sex relationships (1))? These are the questions that are addressed in this study.
There is substantial research evidence that if Elaine were in a sexually satisfying, mixed-sex (i.e., heterosexual) relationship, then one would expect her to show relatively high scores on other aspects of her subjective well-being as well. Within mixed-sex relationships, sexual satisfaction shows strong positive correlations with aspects of relational well-being, such as relationship satisfaction (for a review, see Sprecher & Cate, 2004) and love (for a review, see Hendrick & Hendrick, 2004). Higher sexual satisfaction is also associated with fewer mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety (e.g., Frohlich & Meston, 2002; Tower & Krasner, 2006; Van Minnen & Kampman, 2000), and with better self-rated physical health (Laumann et al., 2006).
These correlations, of course, may exist for several reasons. First, a satisfying sexual relationship may lead directly to increased subjective well-being. Taking an exchange perspective on relationships (Lawrance & Byers, 1995), satisfying sexual experiences are one form of relational benefits exchanged between partners--one that could potentially contribute to positive, overall relationship well-being. There is also substantial evidence that regular sexual activity (especially the experience of orgasms) may have beneficial effects for a variety of aspects of both psychological and physical well-being (Levin, 2007).
Conversely, other aspects of well-being might lead directly to enhanced sexual satisfaction. Those in very satisfying relationships may be motivated to learn to please their partner sexually, as one way of expressing their love (Solomon, 1981). On the negative side, physical and mental health problems could directly interfere with the optimal expression of one's sexuality (Clayton, 2007).
Finally, of course, some third variable, such as socioeconomic status or a general positivity bias in self-ratings, could account for the apparent links between sexual satisfaction and other well-being variables. Experiments are not possible to definitively establish causation with these variables, and longitudinal studies are less than revealing. For example, in longitudinal studies examining the link between sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction, several studies (Byers, 2005; Henderson-King & Veroff, 1994; Sprecher, 2002) have shown that these two constructs do covary together over time, but there is no clear evidence that either one causes the other. Instead, the most likely explanation is that the links between these constructs are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing (e.g., Hendrick & Hendrick, 2004).
Thus, connections between sexual satisfaction and other aspects of subjective well-being are well-established for women in mixed-sex relationships. For women in same-sex relationships, however, the empirical evidence is much more sparse. There have been isolated studies showing positive correlations between sexual satisfaction and relationship quality (e. …