Keeping the spark alive: The role of sexual communal motivation

Sexual Communal Motivation is Beneficial for Relationships

People who are communally motivated to meet their partner’s sexual needs reap important benefits for the self.  In a sample of long-term couples who had been together, on average, for 11 years, we found people who were higher in sexual communal strength felt more sexual desire for their partner and had more enjoyable sexual experiences. Being motivated to meet a partner’s sexual needs also helped people maintain sexual desire over time, even in long-term relationship where desire tends to normatively decline (see review by Impett et al., 2013). Whereas people low in sexual communal strength declined in desire over time in a relationship, people high in sexual communal strength began the study with slightly higher desire and were able to maintain sexual desire over a four month period of time (Muise et al., 2013).

More intuitively, the partners of people high in sexual communal strength also reaped important benefits. In a 21-day daily experience study of long-term couples, people with communally motivated partners reported that their partners were, in fact, highly responsive to their needs during sex and in turn, they felt more satisfied with and committed to their relationships. In another study of couples who were followed over three months, a person’s sexual communal strength predicted their partner’s satisfaction and commitment three months later, controlling for their partner’s satisfaction at commitment at the start of the study (Muise & Impett, invited resubmission). Other research suggests that, at times, changing sexual habits (or making sexual transformations) for a partner can benefit the relationship (Burke & Young, 2012). In one study, romantic couples reported how often they made sexual changes for their partners (e.g., had sex more frequently than personally desired or engaged in activities that were not their preference), and how they felt about making these sexual changes. People who made more frequent sexual changes for their partners had partners who reported being more satisfied in their relationships. In addition, people who felt more positive about changing their sexual habits for a partner felt happier in their relationships and had partners who reported greater happiness as well.

Is the Sexual Domain Unique?

Although a person’s sexual communal motivation is closely aligned with how communal they are in general, being communally motivated in the sexual domain is linked to unique benefits above and beyond general communal motivation. The special role of sexuality may have to do with the fact that discussions about sex can often make partners feel vulnerable and sexuality can be a particularly emotionally charged domain of relationships (Metts & Cupach, 1989; Sanford, 2003). Furthermore, because many romantic relationships are sexually monogamous (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2004), partners may not be able to get their sexual needs met outside of a relationship like they may be able to with other needs. Being high in sexual communal strength may help navigate differing interests and maintain satisfaction in a particularly meaningful and vulnerable domain of relationships.

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