Relationship Satisfaction, Sexual Characteristics and the Psychosocial Well-Being of Women

By Carol Apt, and others | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Relationship Satisfaction, Sexual Characteristics and the Psychosocial Well-Being of Women


Carol Apt, and others, The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


ABSTRACT: Using data from a sample of 235 female nurses, this study focused on marital and sexual satisfaction as important criteria in maintaining a healthy disposition, high life satisfaction, and positive sexual relationship characteristics. A cluster analysis identified five different profiles of marital and sexual satisfaction within the total sample. Of the two most positive profiles, one group of women was defined by high scores in both areas, the other by high sexual satisfaction but only moderate marital satisfaction. In two other profiles, the women were very dissatisfied with either sex or marriage. Subsequent analysis showed that the profiles were meaningfully associated with measures of psychological symptoms and overall life satisfaction. The profiles were also associated with measures of sexual desire, sexual stress, sexual compatibility and sexual assertiveness which reflected the sexual characteristics of the relationship. The strongest univariate profile discriminator was the level of sexual desire. A discriminant function analysis revealed that the level of sexual desire was even more powerful when it was compared to the level of sexual compatibility.

Key words: Female sexuality Sexual satisfaction Sexual desire

Sexual compatibility Sexual measures Sexual stress

Numerous investigations have shown that female sexual functioning is correlated with a variety of relationship factors (Hurlbert & Apt, 1994; Hurlbert et al., 1993). For example, a woman's sexual satisfaction is strongly influenced by her perceived degree of emotional involvement with her intimate partner (Newcomb & Bentler, 1983). However, to understand satisfaction in both marital and sexual relationships, it is necessary to describe the interrelation of these domains (Hurlbert & Apt, 1994). Failure to acknowledge such correlations may obscure sub-samples of women who have substantially different patterns of marital and sexual satisfaction. For example, some women may have a relationship in which sexuality is well integrated with other aspects of the marital relationship; others may experience a more segmented relationship in which marriage and sex are poorly integrated or deliberately pursued in opposition to each other.

The empirical identification of different profiles of marital and sexual satisfaction within a population of women is therefore an important step in understanding variations in intimate relationships. We have used profile research (cluster analysis) to determine whether there are women who are very dissatisfied with one relationship variable (either sexual or marital) but satisfied with the other.

Since both marital and sexual satisfaction may be linked to better mental health, we hypothesized that better mental health would be associated with profiles indicating high absolute levels of satisfaction. What if the levels of marital and sexual satisfaction differ? Given that women, on average, tend to rank marriage as more important than sex (Hurlbert & Whittaker, 1991), would a woman's marital satisfaction be a better predictor of mental health than her sexual satisfaction? We hypothesized that when marital and sexual satisfaction were equivalent, women with profiles reflecting marital satisfaction would evidence better mental health than those with profiles reflecting sexual satisfaction.

Although recent research suggests a strong influence of sexual relationship characteristics on both marital and sexual satisfaction (Hurlbert et al., 1995), there is little published work on such interactions. An assessment of positive and negative sexual relationship characteristics, as measured by such parameters as sexual desire, sexual stress, sexual compatibility, and sexual assertiveness, would permit an integrative exploration of how these dimensions relate to women's marital and sexual satisfaction. For example, is a higher level of sexual desire more important than sexual assertiveness for marital and sexual satisfaction?

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