Towards an Understanding of Sexual Desire Discrepancy in Couples
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Sexual desire is deeply embedded in interpersonal relationships and cannot be fully understood outside of this context. As such, research that focuses on sexual desire problems at the level of the couple is critical for more fully understanding the nature and consequences of such difficulties. In this research, I focus on one interpersonal aspect of desire termed sexual desire discrepancy, or the difference between two romantic partners’ sexual desire levels. Given that desire levels tend to fluctuate over time, discrepancies in sexual desire are an inevitable feature of sexual relationships. However, we know little about how such desire discrepancies relate to sexual outcomes for couples. Past studies that have examined the association between sexual desire discrepancy and sexual satisfaction in college/university samples have had inconsistent findings. Also, the results may not generalize to more established romantic relationships. The current study compared two different conceptualizations of sexual desire discrepancy; perceived sexual desire discrepancy was assessed by asking a participant to subjectively compare his/her own level of sexual desire to that of his/her partner. Actual desire discrepancy was computed by subtracting the female partner's score on a self-report measure of sexual desire from the male partner’s score on the same measure. In Sample 1, I examined the relationship between actual sexual desire discrepancy and sexual satisfaction for 82 couples in committed, long-term relationships. In Sample 2, I investigated the association between perceived sexual desire discrepancy and sexual satisfaction for 191 individuals in committed, long-term relationships. Results showed that higher perceived, but not actual, desire discrepancy was associated with lower sexual satisfaction. Additionally, I found that perceived desire discrepancy outcomes differed when measured using different response scales. Findings highlight methodological issues to consider when measuring sexual desire discrepancy and extend the literature by showing that perceived sexual desire discrepancy is associated with sexual satisfaction for couples in committed, long-term relationships. Limitations of the current study and implications for future research are discussed.