Which Couples Have the Best Sex?

Interesting results arise in this new study on sexual satisfaction.

Posted May 06, 2019

Realstock/Shutterstock
Source: Realstock/Shutterstock

It is quite common to think that marriage provides a better ecosystem for sexual satisfaction. One explanation given is that cohabiting partners are less committed and have more liberal attitudes toward sexual behaviors in comparison to married people. In turn, this makes cohabiting partners less motivated to invest in partner-pleasing skills and to build relationship-specific capital, which decreases their chances of better sexual satisfaction. Another explanation is that married individuals are more satisfied, because they are less likely to worry about being rejected or unloved. 

However, these arguments stand against a growing number of individuals choosing to meet their sexual desires outside of marriage. Since the mid-1960s, the sexual revolution has contributed to a shift in sex practices: The number of sex partners the average person has in a lifetime has increased, and sex outside of marriage has gradually been destigmatized. For example, a recent Gallup survey shows that Americans in 2015 were 16 percentage points more likely to approve of out-of-wedlock birth than in 2000, 15 points more likely to approve of pre-marital sex, and even one point more likely to approve of cheating. It seems that people are getting something that is yet to be discovered in research. Something might have changed in the way many of us behave in today's world.    

Does Marriage Really Improve Sexual Satisfaction?

In a new study, published by the Journal of Sex Research, I analyzed the extent and determinants of sexual satisfaction among seven relationship-status groups: married, never married, and those who are divorced/separated, where the latter two groups are further divided into single, living apart together (LAT), and cohabiting. In addition, I studied the levels of sexual self-esteem, sexual communication, and sex frequency for the different relationship-status groups as predictors of sexual satisfaction. 

Analyzing the responses of 3,207 respondents from Germany, aged 32-46, I found several interesting findings. First, marriage is apparently not a determinant for sexual satisfaction. In fact, married couples are among the least sexually satisfied groups. Second, married people reported lower rates of sexual self-esteem and sexual communication skills than most groups. Third, the group that generally showed the highest levels of sexual satisfaction is that of unmarried couples living apart.    

The only exception is that of unmarried individuals who currently have no partner. This particular group scored lower than the married group in terms of sexual satisfaction. However, the main reason that they were less sexually satisfied than married couples was their sex frequency, which was naturally lower for non-partnered singles than for couples. In fact, they actually reported higher levels of sexual self-esteem and sexual communication skills than the married. 

Therefore, it seems that it is not marriage that is beneficial to sexual satisfaction, but rather having a partner, which is many times a personal choice. Interestingly, it might well be that married couples, who are actually less confident in their sexual skills than most groups, marry exactly because they want to address these insecurities.    

These conclusions challenge previous research. Most importantly, previous studies unjustifiably blended the groups of unmarried people together. By combining non-partnered singles with other unmarried groups, previous studies inaccurately showed that marriage is advantageous for sexual satisfaction. However, distinguishing between the groups of singles, and excluding those who don't want to have a partner (or simply don't have one at the moment), shows that marriage is not a positive predictor of sexual satisfaction, quite the opposite.

References

Elyakim Kislev (2019) Does Marriage Really Improve Sexual Satisfaction? Evidence From the Pairfam Data Set, The Journal of Sex Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2019.1608146

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