New research in The Journal of Sexual Medicine provides evidence that appearance satisfaction is a predictor of sexual functioning. The study found that being satisfied with one’s physical looks was linked to a smaller likelihood of experiencing sexual problems related to a lack of enjoyment and excitement.
“I find the study of the intersection of the self and romantic relationships interesting. Perceptions of the self can have very profound implications for relationship dynamics,” said study author Camilla S. Øverup, postdoctoral researcher within the Unit of Medical Psychology at the University of Copenhagen.
“In this case, I wanted to see if perceptions of one’s physical appearance had implications for sexual problems and (very importantly) for distress about those sexual problems, since research suggests that appearance satisfaction is associated with sexual satisfaction.”
The researchers surveyed 2,903 Norwegians in romantic relationships, who were on average 47 years old. The participants were asked to indicate how dissatisfied or satisfied they were with their physical appearance. They also indicated whether they had experienced a lack of interest in sex, lack of enjoyment in sex, felt anxious during sex, felt no excitement during sex, or did not reach climax during sex over a period of 3 months or longer.
Approximately 46% of the participants reported experiencing one or more sexual problems.
“Appearance satisfaction was associated with reporting fewer sexual problems, and specifically, with a smaller likelihood of experiencing problems with lack of enjoyment, lack of excitement, and lack of climax. Furthermore, although appearance satisfaction was unrelated to overall sexual problem-related distress, it was associated with feeling less distress about lack of excitement and lack of climax, for those who experience these problems,” Øverup told PsyPost.
The researchers controlled for factors such as body-mass index, gender, length of relationship, and relationship satisfaction. But as with any study, the new research has some limitations.
“This was a correlational study, and thus, we can only speculate as to why we found the results that we did. Future research should seek to examine why greater appearance satisfaction is associated with fewer sexual problems and less distress over those sexual specific problems,” Øverup explained.
“We speculate that people who are happier with their appearance are better able to be present in the moment (during sex), and may feel less distress about sexual problems, if those problems are present. That is, we believe that spectatoring (i.e., seeing oneself from a third person perspective during sexual activity, rather than focusing on one’s sensations and/or sexual partner) is reduced when appearance satisfaction is higher.”
“Much research focuses on gender differences, and sometimes even measure constructs in gender-specific ways,” Øverup added. “In our study, we asked questions that were applicable across genders (that is, gender neutral questions) and found that associations between appearance satisfaction and sexual problems and related distress did not differ for men and women.”
The study, “Appearance Satisfaction as a Predictor of Specific Sexual Problems and Associated Distress“, was authored by Camilla S. Øverup, Jenna Marie Strizzi, Ana Cipric, Bente Træen, and Gert Martin Hald.