A growing body of research indicates that physical intimacy and affection are important aspects of romantic relationship quality (Dainton, Stafford, & Canary, 1994; Floyd et al., 2009; Floyd et al., 2005; Gulledge, Gulledge, & Stahmann, 2003). More specifically, physically affectionate couples report greater relationship satisfaction than less physically affectionate couples (Dainton et al., 1994). Additionally, couples who engage in more frequent sexual relations experience more relational stability compared to couples who engage in less frequent sexual relations (Yabiku & Gager, 2009). Although these findings demonstrate the positive and rewarding influence of intimacy and sex in relationships, sex can also contribute to relationship problems. In fact, frequency of sexual relations is one of the most problematic issues cited among married couples (Risch, Riley, & Lawler, 2003). Based on these findings, it seems as though more frequent physically intimate behavior (e.g., hugging, kissing, or holding hands) is perceived as a relational reward, whereas less frequent intimate behavior is perceived as a relational cost. Applying a theoretical framework such as interdependence theory, which posits that relational outcomes (e.g., satisfaction) stem from how couples weigh relational rewards and costs, might clarify the extent to which sexual or intimate behaviors influence couples' relationship satisfaction.
Proponents of interdependence theory also argue that, at times, relational partners transform their behavior to match each other's desires in order to achieve satisfying relational outcomes (Kelley, 1979). In terms of sexual relations specifically, individuals might engage in sexual transformations by putting the partner's sexual desire before their own. Given the context of this study, which examines the association between sexual transformations and relationship satisfaction, considering the potential influence of intimate behaviors upon relationship quality might be especially salient. Indeed, research in this area suggests that physical affection is associated with enhanced relationship quality (Floyd et al., 2009). Consequently, the aim of this study was to identify the extent to which frequency of and feelings about sexual transformations influence relationship satisfaction. Further, we examined the role of physically intimate behaviors in relationships, as well as how sexual transformations might moderate the association between intimate behaviors and relationship satisfaction.
Sex and Relationship Quality
As previously mentioned, research on sex and relationship quality suggests that sexual satisfaction is positively associated with commitment and stability in romantic relationships (Sprecher & Cate, 2004), as well as with relationship satisfaction among dating (Byers, Demmons, & Lawrance, 1998; Sprecher, 2002) and married couples (Cupach & Comstock, 1990; Henderson-King & Veroff, 1994). Further, other dimensions of sexuality, including sexual attraction (Huston & Levinger, 1978), sexual expression, intimacy, love, and other sexual behaviors (Sprecher & McKinney, 1993), also contribute to relationship stability via relationship maintenance mechanisms--that is, in close relationships, where most sexual activity takes place (Christopher & Sprecher, 2000), individuals often express love and affection as markers of relationship quality and maintenance. The link between sexual behaviors as forms of relationship maintenance and relationship quality is well established in previous research (for a review, see Dindia, 2000); however, relatively few studies employ a dyadic exchange perspective to address sexual transformations as a relationship maintenance strategy.
Interdependence Theory and Sexual Transformations in Relationships
Whereas sexual behaviors have been previously studied in terms of exchange theories (e.g., equity …