Keeping the spark alive: The role of sexual communal motivation

Can a Person Be Too Communal?

Although there are clearly benefits to being communal in a sexual relationship, being motivated to meet a partner’s need without considering your own needs is not linked to benefits in a relationship and in fact, can detract from relationship quality. Unmitigated communion involves a focus on a partner’s needs to the detriment of one’s self (Fritz & Helgeson, 1998). People high in unmitigated communion do not reap the same benefits as people high in communal strength and are actually less successful at navigating situations of relationship conflict (Nagurney, 2007). This concept has not yet been applied to the specific domain of sexuality, but some research suggests prioritizing a partner’s sexual needs without considering one’s own sexual needs could lead to detrimental consequences, such as losing sight of one’s own desires (Tolman, 2002) or experiencing lower sexual well-being (Muise, Preyde, Maitland, & Milhausen, 2008). Therefore, sexual communal motivation is not just about meeting a partner’s needs, but about striking the right balance between being responsive to their partner’s needs and asserting their own needs.

In addition, based on theories of communal motivation, there should be a degree of mutuality in romantic partners’ motivation to meet each other’s needs. That is, both partners should be attuned to and responsive to the needs of the other, and care should be given based on whose need is greater at that time. If one partner is communal and the other partner is not or takes advantage of the partner’s communal nature, in theory, the communal person should stop being communal or should end the relationship to avoid being exploited (Clark & Mills, 2012). So although communal giving is not quid pro quo, people who are communally motivated to meet their partner’s needs expect their partners to be motivated to meet their needs in return.

What Does this Mean for Your Relationship?

People high in sexual communal strength can provide insight into potential strategies that might promote desire and satisfaction in ongoing romantic partnerships. It seems that to be motivated to meet a partner’s sexual needs you have to understand those needs and a good starting place may to be to promote open sexual communication in a relationship. We know from a previous study that people who communicate, either verbally or non-verbally, with their partner during sex reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction (Babin, 2012). As such, one way to promote communal giving in a relationship may be to openly communicate with a partner about sexual interests and preferences. Self-disclosure is seen as a key aspect of communal relationships (Clark & Mills, 2010). Therefore, disclosure about sexual needs, wants, and desires may be an important way to promote sexual communal strength in ongoing relationships, and may encourage a partner to share their desires as well.  

In sum, being communal in the bedroom is beneficial for both partners in a relationship. People high in sexual communal strength maintain sexual desire over the course of time in long-term relationships, have more enjoyable sexual experiences and more satisfying relationships. However, it is important to strike the right balance being motivated to meet a partner’s sexual needs and asserting your own needs. Sexual communal motivation is linked to benefits for both partners in a relationship as long as there is mutual responsiveness and partners don’t lose sight of their own needs in the process.


Babin, E. (2012). An examination of predictors of nonverbal and verbal communication of pleasure during sex and sexual satisfaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships,  30, 270-292.

Baumeister, R. F., & Bratslavsky, E. (1999). Passion, intimacy, and time: Passionate love as a function of change in intimacy. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 3, 49–67.

Burke . J., & Young, V. J. (2012). Sexual transformations and intimate behaviors in romantic relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 49, 454-463.

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