When Sex Isn't Satisfying

Researchers differ on the very definition of the term sexual dissatisfaction. Does it mean a low frequency of intercourse? If so, does low frequency cause dissatisfaction or is dissatisfaction the cause of the low frequency? Is stress in the marriage a symptom of sexual dissatisfaction or its cause?

Most studies have settled for beginning with a simple yes-or-no question: "Are you sexually satisfied in your marriage?" The rest of the questions then help researchers more accurately define just what sexual dissatisfaction is and how to treat it.

Women seem to suffer more from sexual dissatisfaction in marriage than men, with the most common complaint being lack of desire and/or arousal.

Figures on the percentage of marriages struggling with sexual dissatisfaction range from 35 to 60 percent. Most studies reveal difficulty in obtaining accurate figures; those suffering most from sexual dissatisfaction, researchers say, tend to be less willing to talk about it.

In 2000, a comprehensive survey conducted by the University of Alabama Department of Health Services, correlated with more than a dozen similar studies, revealed several factors most often connected with sexual dissatisfaction, including:

  1. The overall quality of the marriage relationship and degree of emotional closeness. These factors are closely related to the perceived degree of satisfaction, especially for women.
  2. Partners' spirituality, especially what they believe is God's view of sex. Those who believe sex was designed for procreation only or that sex for pleasure alone is sinful are more often sexually dissatisfied.
  3. Consistency of orgasm for either partner. Although women often view an orgasm as less important than overall intimacy and emotional closeness, consistent difficulty in reaching orgasm for either partner lowers sexual satisfaction.
  4. Frequency of intercourse. Although researchers don't agree whether infrequent intercourse causes dissatisfaction or is the result of dissatisfaction, infrequent intercourse and dissatisfaction tend to go hand-in-hand.
  5. Noncoital sexual activity. Those who devoted more time to foreplay reported more overall satisfaction.
  6. Age. Age tends to increase overall dissatisfaction or satisfaction, depending on the state of other issues. If other factors in this list result in lower satisfaction, satisfaction goes down even more with age. If satisfaction is high, it tends to be even higher with age. 1

Other less-common factors can lower sexual satisfaction, including:

  • A past history of sexual abuse
  • Menopause
  • Overall physical health
  • Side effects from medications
  • Satisfaction or dissatisfaction with physical appearance, especially weight
  • Pelvic inflammation or other health problems caused by STDs
  • The partners' sexual histories prior to marriage
  • Drug or alcohol addiction, and
  • Exposure to certain toxic chemicals.
1 Young, Michael; Denny, George; Young, Tamera; Luquis, Raffy. "Sexual Satisfaction Among Married Women," American Journal of Health Studies. Study conducted by University of Alabama Department of Health Sciences, 2000. Found on LexisNexis.

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