Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

The Interrelationship between Intimacy, Relationship Functioning, and Sexuality among Men and Women in Committed Relationships

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

The Interrelationship between Intimacy, Relationship Functioning, and Sexuality among Men and Women in Committed Relationships

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Scales measuring the broad constructs of intimacy, relationship functioning, and sexual functioning were completed by 157 males (mean age $$.4 years) and 102 females (mean age 29.6 years) who had been in a committed heterosexual relationship for at least 12 months. The goal of the study was to determine how men and women would differ on individual dimensions of these constructs and to identify those dimensions most strongly associated with relationship quality and sexual satisfaction. Among the 5 categories of intimacy assessed (emotional, social, sexual, intellectual and recreational), the only sex difference observed was that women reported higher sexual intimacy scores. The sexes did not differ on any of the three relationship scale measures (general relationship, conflict, and communication) but on the sexuality scale, men reported higher scores than women on sexual satisfaction, sexual communication, positive attitudes toward sex, desire for more physical contact, and on their rating of partner's level of sexual dysfunction. Men also assigned lower sexual attitude scores to their partner than did women. The most consistent predictors of relationship functioning for both sexes were scores on three sexuality measures that did not differ between the sexes: conventionality, sexual behaviour, and respondent's assessment of their own level of sexual dysfunction. Studies on the interrelationships between intimacy, relationship functioning, and sexuality should incorporate not only global measures of these three broad constructs but also measures of the specific dimensions from which these global constructs are derived.

Key Words : Intimacy Relationships Sexuality Gender

The sizeable body of literature on the relationship between sexual satisfaction and marital satisfaction indicates that these two variables are strongly related in women (Hurlbert & Apt, 1994; Kumar & Dhyani, 1996; Apt, Hurlbert, Pierce, & White, 1996). Although at least one study found a minority of women in whom high levels of sexual satisfaction were associated with only moderate levels of marital satisfaction (Apt et al., 1996), the evidence to date has indicated a strong association between these parameters. However, there is some suggestion that this relationship between sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction may not be direct. For example, Cupach and Comstock (1990) found that for both males and females sexual satisfaction and relationship adjustment were not directly related, suggesting that the level of sexual satisfaction mediated the relationship between sexual communication satisfaction and relationship satisfaction or alternatively sexual communication satisfaction may affect relationship satisfaction which in turn affects sexual satisfaction. Their findings suggest that the nature of these interrelationships should be further evaluated by examining the. direct impact of the quality of sexual communication on both relationship quality and sexual satisfaction.

Henderson-King and Veroff (1994) also found that the strong association between marital and sexual satisfaction is not as simple as early studies would suggest. They found that for both sexes there was a strong association between sexual satisfaction and various measures of relationship quality, particularly in the first and third year of marriage. However, the association did not apply for all relationship variables and varied across the years of the marriage for both males and females. Given the above observations, it is possible that a better understanding of the relationship between sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction could be obtained if studies included a variable that related to both of these constructs. Since intimacy has been proposed as an important variable in explaining broad parameters of relationship functioning (Acker & Davis, 1992; Twohey & Ewing, 1995), one goal of the present study was to assess the impact of intimacy on various aspects of relationship functioning and sexual satisfaction. …

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