An Investigation of Perceptions of Partner Sexual Satisfaction in Committed Relationships
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To date, only two studies have examined the accuracy of people’s perceptions of their romantic partners’ sexual satisfaction. These have yielded inconsistent results, with one study suggesting that men tend to overestimate their partners’ sexual satisfaction while women do not, and the other suggesting that women tend to overestimate their partners’ sexual satisfaction while men do not. Both studies have significant methodological limitations that make it difficult to interpret their findings. The first purpose of the current study was to investigate how similar people’s perceptions of their partners’ sexual satisfaction were to the levels of sexual satisfaction their partners reported, using an improved research methodology that addressed the limitations of past research. The second purpose of the current study was to better understand the factors that predict bias in perceptions of partner sexual satisfaction, using an integrative model that included both interpersonal and intrapersonal factors. Participants were 84 heterosexual couples who were married or cohabiting. They completed measures of sexual satisfaction (their own and their partners’), relationship satisfaction, quality of communication about sexual issues within their relationships, and also completed a task designed to assess emotion recognition abilities. We found that partner perceptions of sexual satisfaction were strongly correlated with self-reported sexual satisfaction for both males and females. We also found that males’ perceptions of their female partners’ sexual satisfaction were significantly biased, such that they underestimated their partners’ levels of sexual satisfaction. Females neither over nor underestimated their partners’ sexual satisfaction. Additionally, we found that better quality of sexual communication predicted decreased bias, while there was a trend toward better emotion recognition abilities predicting decreased bias. Further, quality of sexual communication and emotion recognition abilities interacted such that when the quality of sexual communication was good, there was no association between emotion recognition abilities and bias, but when the quality of sexual communication was poor, better emotion recognition abilities were associated with less bias. Implications of these findings are discussed.