Sex is an important part of a romantic relationship. The quality of sexual life can strongly influence our happiness in a relationship.
Nevertheless, women and men are different when relating their sexually dysfunction with relationship stress, according to a review published in Current Opinion in Psychology.
There are many types of sexual dysfunction. One type is inactive sexual desire. Men and women with this dysfunction may have no sexual thoughts, fantasies, and desire for sex, and may not respond to sexual cues.
Women can have sexual arousal dysfunction. They cannot attain or maintain arousal until sex is done. Women can also have orgasmic dysfunction, which means they rarely have orgasm or the orgasm is not intense.
Men can have erectile dysfunction (ED). They cannot attain or maintain penile erections for sex. Men can also have premature ejaculation (PE). Their ejaculation is always prior to or within 1 minute of sex.
These sexual function problems are related to conflicts, satisfaction, and arguments in a relationship. However, the situations in men and women are different.
Researchers find that men with erectile dysfunction (ED) have lower satisfaction and sexual desire in their relationship. But some men are able to separate sexually dysfunction and relationship stress issues in their life, and they just feel fine.
In women, the relation between sexual dysfunction and relationship stress is quite strong. Researchers find that women with low sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm usually have more relationship problems.
It is possible that women in poor relationships avoid sex and limit their sex experience and intimacy. In fact, sexual therapy often fails if doctors ignore the relationship situation.
Researcher suggests that women understand and experience their sexual desire primarily via their relationship with their partner. If they are unhappy in a relationship, they barely have any sexual desire. They may only experience their sexual desire once they actually have sex.
Men’s sexual dysfunction can influence women’s happiness in a relationship. For example, women complain that their male partners (with ED or PE) become less romantic and affectionate. These men worry that any intimate contact (e.g., a kiss or a cuddle) may push them “to go further”, something they cannot achieve.
That may explain why most women want their male partner to seek help, and they want to be involved in the treatment process.
Interestingly, treatment seeking in men with sexual dysfunction may not increase their satisfaction in a relationship.
Taken together, current research shows that in women there is a strong association between sexual dysfunction and relationship problems. For men, the association is less strong.
In the future, sexual therapy should connect relationship stress with sexual dysfunction in interventions, especially for women.
Citation: McCabe MP, Connaughton C. (2017). Sexual dysfunction and relationship stress: how does this association vary for men and women? Current Opinion in Psychology, 13: 81-84. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.05.007
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