Satisfying Long-Term Relationships

Black_and_White_love_romance_kiss1[1]Some couples have strong and satisfying sex lives, over many years.

How does that happen?

A large study on long-term relationships and sexual satisfaction will be published soon in the Journal of Sex Research. Researchers spoke with the Wall Street Journal about the the upcoming article, and here are some highlights. You can go to for a more in-depth discussion. 

Respondents rated their level of sexual satisfaction on a scale of 1-7. And 83% remembered being satisfied in the first six months of their relationship.

How about now?

How sexually satisfied are you in your relationship?

  • Satisfied: 43% of men and 55% of women
  • Neutral: 16% of men and 18% of women
  • Dissatisfied: 41% of men and 27% of women

Couples who felt sexually fulfilled were also happier in their relationships.

But it’s hard to know which comes first, satisfaction or frequency, say the researchers. More satisfied couples may simply be more interested in sex. (That is likely since another study found that increasing the frequency of sex can harm relationships.)

What predicts how satisfied someone will be? Gender differences emerged, but often the biggest difference was merely the ordering of priority.

Men: strongest predictors of satisfaction, in order:

  • Mood setting
  • Variety
  • Communication

Women: strongest predictors of satisfaction, in order:

  • Frequency of orgasm
  • Mood setting
  • Communication

The fact that frequency of orgasm was much more important for women is likely due to the fact that orgasm is typically more dependable in men. As I’ve argued before, that’s probably because our society is much more punishing of women’s sexuality.

Communication is important

Both men and women said that communication was important. The five types listed below seem most helpful. Here’s how respondents prioritized importance:

  • Praised their partner for something they did in bed
  • Were asked for something they wanted
  • Asked for something they wanted from their partner
  • Communicated during the day, via phone or email, to tease about something they wanted
  • Asked for feedback on how something felt

Mood-setting also made a big difference. And the most significant thing for both women and men was this:

  • Saying “I love you” during sex

Three-quarters of satisfied women and men said that their partners told them this during their last encounter (less than half of dissatisfied men and women heard those words).

Other important mood-setters (in order of importance):

  • Sexy talk
  • Laughing about something funny that happened during sex
  • Candles or dimmed lights
  • Background music

Top five acts

The top five acts that created sexual satisfaction were the same for women and men, but in slightly different order.

For women:

  • Trying new positions
  • Taking a shower or bath with their partner
  • Getting or giving a massage
  • Sexy lingerie
  • Talking about or acting out fantasies

For men:

  • Trying new positions
  • Sexy lingerie
  • Taking a shower or bath with their partner
  • Talking about or acting out fantasies
  • Getting or giving a massage

Hope the info helps!

The study was conducted by Chapman University, California State/Los Angeles, Sonoma State University and the Kinsey Institute. Researchers posted a survey on for two weeks in 2006. Nearly 39,000 long-term partners (together at least three years) in straight relationships responded. Average age: women 40,  men 46.

Every survey comes with a bias. In this case, respondents are likely to be more politically liberal (MSNBC) and sexually interested (people who are less interested in sex are less likely to make the effort to respond to sex surveys).

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on February 10, 2016, in men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. I agree with some of the points. I also think the sexual satisfy is important for keeping a long-term relationship. But women and men have a different trait when they are on the bed. In addition, we can see the list that women and men are seeking different require such as mood, communication or variety and so on. Also, different people have different types like which come first in satisfy or frequent. I cannot decide which is first, but at least couple need a physical compatibility on the bed. I agree with the Women: strongest predictors of satisfaction, in order frequency of orgasm, but men strongest predictors of satisfaction, in order variety. Based on my experience, I strongly agree with that. I want to feel orgasm, but my boyfriend wants variety pose before I feel orgasm. We argue sometimes about this problem, and finally we solve the problem. Satisfying both men and women is the good point of keeping long-term relationship.

  2. I would have to say from personal testimony that this short article is pretty accurate. I have been with my boyfriend for 5 years now and we are still standing strong. After years of being together I realized that all of our needs are very similar when it comes to what we both want for our relationship. I would say though, that sex isn’t the biggest factor of our relationship and i don’t think it should be in general. The number one priority of our relationship is the communication that we have with each other to make sure we know what we both want and need to fulfill our satisfaction. Instead of sex I would say that communication is the number one indicator of having a long happy relationship in which you are satisfied in. Without comprehending each other the relationship will not grow and the spark between a couple will die out real fast without the quality of good communication, after that all else follows, when it comes to sex and emotional attachment.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. I don’t think the research means that sex is the number one priority. Just that there is a positive correlation between sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction. But other things can certainly be more important.

  3. I found this post to be very interesting. One would think that men and women would have very different criteria for feeling satisfied in a relationship. In reality however, men and women want very similar things. Communication, emotional, and physical intimacy seem to be the main forces that drive a successful relationship. By these standards, it seems to be that satisfying relationships are rooted in equality. The man and the woman’s emotional and sexual needs must both be met in order for a relationship to thrive. A man and a woman must view each other’s needs as equally important. This makes me wonder how a relationship can thrive in a society that values men above women. If men in these societies are taught that a woman’s needs do not matter, then how can their relationships thrive?

    • Yeah, we have these stereotypes that men and women are so different. But we are both human and half human needs.

      We still value men more than women but a lot less than we used to. Women still don’t mind taking on masculine traits, But men still feel demeaned if they take on feminine ones.

      In highly patriarchal societies Close relationships are actually discouraged. Maybe because if a man cares about a woman he will be less inclined to dominate her.

  4. Matthew Cleveland

    I was very surprised to see the study that said there is a negative correlation between frequency of sex and happiness in a relationship. I think it’s interesting that there is a dissatisfaction stemming from too much sex in a relationship, as it goes against what I would assume.
    I think it’s interesting that men rank mood setting higher than woman do, stereotypically woman seek out mood settings (very pervasive media trope). I think one reason men rank it so highly is because we are conditioned to not show emotion around other people, and when we are in a secure trusting relationship mood setting allows us to express our sensual or romantic side unabated.

    • I was surprised at men’s high rank of mood setting, too. I think it’s because of our stereotypes. But men are human beings and many feel they need those sorts of things too. And the reason you suggest as to why makes a lot of sense.

      On your other point, 1) of course the study I was focused on showed a positive correlation between frequency of sex and relationship satisfaction. 2) where you find the negative correlation it seems to be because researchers asked couples to increase the amount of sexy had to see if that helped the relationship. But apparently they were good with the amount that they had already been having, And more just put pressure on them to do something that they wouldn’t have ordinarily done on their own.

  5. I do believe sex is important, but it shouldn’t be all you think about in a relationship. In a long term relationship I think that communication is very important. In my past relationships I never communicated to my partner, and we always seemed to bump heads. Even though sexually we were both satisfied, we just never talked about our problems. We always kept our problems hidden and never opened up. I feel in a relationship the more you know about your partner her ups and down, her past and what made her the way she is, the more you can appreciate and cherish her. In my opinion sex is just a plus, if you are with the one you love their company should suffice.

    • I agree that sex shouldn’t be the only thing that matters in a relationship. But it often sure seems to help. (And I suspect that better relationships, with more emotional connection, creates better sexual relationships — especially since hearing “I love you” is so important to both partners.)

  6. I do not feel like sec is to important in a relationship, because there are couples that would only think that sexual actions are only to make children. For me, my relationship does not really involve too much of anything sexual and we have been together for about 3 years. There are some times where they do happen, but it is not because we think it matters, it is just because we want to. Even if we go months without actually doing anything sexual we are completely fine.
    There are pairs of people that enjoy just doing it for fun every now and then, or because they have the chance they will do it. There are also couples that do not do it at all up until they get married, and it is not just because they vowed not to do it before marriage, they just genuinely think it is not really necessary.
    Sex can be fun, sex is something that couples can do when they are bored, or feel like it helps strengthen their relationship, or they just love doing it, but it is not really an important thing that will help relationships last long.

  7. I definitely think sex is easily more exciting when it’s new and unfamiliar- and often, allowing sex between two people to change and evolve and wax and wane is part of the experience.

  8. This is an important topic to understand, and the question of “it’s hard to know which comes first, satisfaction or frequency” for a satisfying relationship may differ between people. However, I do tend to agree that when there is communication and a strong overall relationship, then the environment for frequency sex and enjoyment is so much higher. Wonderful post Georgia.

  9. It never fails in these studies.

    Look at the statistically significant difference between men and women. The majority of women satisfied. Yet only 43% of the men satisfied.

    The dissatisfied percentage is even more striking (though I am not at all surprised). A whopping 41% of the men are dissatisfied compared to only 27% of women. Why the huge difference?

    Yet we continue to read how married men are happier with their sex lives than single men. Which since I have divorced, I can say is total rubbish. Single men have much more satisfying sex lives than married men, hands down. Sex is better. Sex is more readily available. Sex is more frequent. Sex partners are far more interested and eager.

    If sex is a priority for you (man or woman), then clearly this study is saying LTRs and marriage is not the place to be. This is especially true for men. When the majority of men cannot say they are satisfied with their sex life (but the women can), then to me this does not bode well for men.

    • The gap is probably due to a culture that represses women’s sexuality, leaving women less interested and wanting less sex. So the couple is having less sex. But she is satisfied with that lower-level, while he is not.

      I’m not sure why this study shows men being less sexually satisfied, And yet in surveys of overall health and happiness, married men show up as healthier and happier than anyone else. They are quicker than women to remarry after widowhood or divorce, too — which suggests that they really do prefer marriage over singlehood, And that they are happier being married.

      One thing to keep in mind is that sexual satisfaction won’t necessarily determine one’s overall happiness. Married men still benefit by having someone they can talk to and share their deepest feelings with. And because men still to do be taken care of, they get that. And men typically have more say. Both of those last two things will make married men happier than married women.

      And even if married men are less satisfied than they would like to be with their sex lives, married men still seem to get more sex than single men. Because married men at least have a partner who is right there. Single men have to go out, And often face a lot of rejection, before finding a sex partner. You say that your personal experience is different from what the studies find it is true of the general population. But that’s why we have social science. If everyone’s experience was the same as our personal experience, we wouldn’t need social science. We would already know everything.

  10. Excellent post. I would loved to have had some of this information many years ago 😀 .

  11. Quite an elaborate research and statistics… Thanks for sharing, Georgia… 🙂

  12. Yep, I agree with those things mentioned!

  13. Talking about or acting out fantasies”

    Interesting that both are important for men and women. And interesting that despite that importance, probably many couples don’t talk or communicate their fantasies for fear of their partner think they are “weird” or out of feat or embarassment for a fantasy that might be ‘kinky” or different. I think it effects both men and women differently though. Women might be afraid to do so out of fear of seeming like a ‘freak” or whore or something for knowing some tricks or maybe feel like a deviant for a 50 shades fantasy or fear of beign judged. Men fear of either probably being seen as weird, especially if it’s fetish related fantasy or not manly or less of a man if it’s a submissive-related or role reversal fantasy…

    It’s proably why it’s important for a couple to communicate well, love each other and have a great connection so they can trust each other and support each other. I think couples who are afriad don’t have that trust with each other or don’t openly communicate as much as they should perhaps or they think. You know there’s great trust and connection when couple’s can feel secure talking about their fantasy without fearing about it. It’s hard to get there, but perhaps it’s a matter of being with the right person, and not the one who you thought is right.

    • Yeah, maybe that’s why communication is so high on everyone’s list. And you mentioned trust. Feeling like your partner loves you probably increases trust and makes it easier to communicate. And those last words sound pretty wise.

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