A new study has added to the research on relationship maintenance, uncovering certain sexual behaviors that appear to contribute to relationship well-being in both long-distance and geographically close relationships. The findings were published in the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy.
The field of relationship research has outlined a selection of behaviors that are believed to contribute to the maintenance of positive romantic relationships. These behaviors can be referred to as “relationship maintenance behaviors” and include things like spending time with shared friends, task sharing, and engaging in positive talk.
Along similar lines, the authors of the new study proposed that there are “sexual maintenance behaviors” that also help maintain positive relationships. The researchers sought to test whether these proposed sexual maintenance behaviors indeed relate to relationship well-being and to further explore how relationship maintenance behaviors relate to sexual satisfaction.
“I was interested in studying long-distance relationships because I was in a long-distance relationship with my husband for 5 years while we were in graduate school. I wanted to know what the best ways were to ensure that our relationship thrived while we were apart,” explained study author Kaitlyn Goldsmith, a registered clinical psychologist and lecturer at the University of British Columbia.
The researchers conducted a study on young men and women between the ages of 18 and 30 who were currently in romantic relationships. In order to acknowledge the increasing number of couples engaging in long-distance relationships (LDRs), the study included 232 individuals in LDRs and 263 individuals in geographically close relationships.
All participants completed questionnaires that asked them about their participation in various relationship maintenance behaviors, including being pleasant/cheerful around their partner, conveying commitment to their partner, and engaging in open communication. The questionnaires also assessed participation in sexual maintenance behaviors, such as having sexual fantasies about their partner, the frequency of sexual activity with their partner, the frequency of solo sexual activity, and sexual compliance.
First, the researchers found that all of the examined relationship maintenance behaviors were linked to greater relationship satisfaction and greater sexual satisfaction. In terms of sexual maintenance behaviors, greater sexual idealization (the extent that one believes their partner is their ideal sexual partner) and higher frequency of sexual fantasies about one’s partner were also related to greater relationship and sexual satisfaction.
When the researchers focused on direct effects, only sexual idealization and frequency of partner fantasies were unique predictors of sexual satisfaction. Only dyadic interactions, romantic idealization, and prospective behaviors were found to uniquely predict relationship satisfaction.
Interestingly, the analysis revealed similar effects among those in long-distance relationships and geographically-close relationships, suggesting that the maintenance of romantic relationships operates similarly in both types of relationships. The same was true when controlling for gender, suggesting that the same maintenance behaviors can be helpful for both men and women.
“The main findings of our research suggest that long-distance relationships are not doomed due to the distance. Rather, the results suggest that there are many ways to enhance both relationship and sexual satisfaction while apart,” Goldsmith told PsyPost.
“These include staying in touch via electronic media, thinking positively about your relationship, and spending intentional, positive time together when you get the chance. Focusing on the romantic side of relationships can also have a positive impact on sexual satisfaction and vice versa.”
In contrast to both previous research and the researchers’ expectations, solitary online sexual activity (e.g. accessing porn) and masturbation were negatively linked to satisfaction outcomes. Sexual compliance (partaking in sexual behavior to please one’s partner but without explicit pressure from the partner) was also negatively linked to satisfaction.
“Some romantic and sexual behaviors we found to be associated with satisfaction could be circumstantial. Specifically, solo sexuality (online and/or masturbation) and sexual compliance were not related to positive outcomes in relationships. This may be a result of some participants being dissatisfied sexually and turning to other modes of achieving satisfaction,” Goldsmith said.
“These behaviors may function differently in relationships in which satisfaction is high, and masturbation and solo on-line sexual activity could be seen as an enhancement, versus replacement, for sexual activity and connection.”
The study, “Factors associated with sexual satisfaction in mixed-sex long-distance and geographically close relationships”, was authored by Kaitlyn Goldsmith and E. Sandra Byers.