Getting together or getting it over with? It matters, study finds.
The scenarios play out in bedrooms across America: A man
indulges his wife’s desire for sex because he doesn’t want to
disappoint her on their anniversary; a woman accepts her
boyfriend’s advances because she’d rather avoid conflict than
decline sex; a tired man responds to his partner’s touch because
he’d feel guilty if he didn’t.
Such “avoidance-motivated goals” for sex — or having sex
to avoid a negative outcome, rather than in pursuit of a positive
one, such as cultivating closeness — are associated with lower
sexual and relationship satisfaction for the reluctant partner.
But new research in the October issue of Personality and Social
Psychology Bulletin suggests such behavior makes the eager
partner less satisfied, too.
Psychologists in Ontario, Canada, conducted three studies.
First, they asked participants to rate the relationship satisfaction,
sexual satisfaction and level of sexual desire of a hypothetical
person who engaged in sex with his or her partner for either
positive or negative reasons. Next, they evaluated the daily
diaries of young dating couples who for two weeks rated their
motivations for and feelings about each sexual interaction.
Participants also recorded daily how they felt about their own
relationships. Finally, the researchers tracked similar diaries of
married or co-habitating couples to see how the associations
played out over time.
The team found that a partner’s motivations for sex have
implications for both partners’ satisfaction — beyond the other
partner’s own reasons. “What we didn’t know was if my partner
wants to have sex, does he or she really care why I’m having
sex, or is he or she just happy to be getting the sex they want
to be having?” says Amy Muise, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in
psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, who led the
study with psychology professor Emily Impett, PhD. “We found,
yes, it does matter. The partner is somehow picking up on this.”
Muise and her colleagues also found that people who more
frequently listed avoidance-related reasons for sex were more
likely to experience a drop in sexual satisfaction and desire
four months later. Ditto for their partners, who also felt less
committed to the relationship four months out.
So, is grudging sex worse for a relationship than no sex?
Probably not, says Muise, who notes that participants reported
higher relationship satisfaction on the days they had sex than
on the ones they didn’t — no matter the reason. But, she says,
“if this is what you’re chronically doing, it could build up over
time and have negative outcomes.”
— ANNA MILLER