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Understanding When a Partner Is Not in the Mood: Sexual Communal Strength in Couples Transitioning to Parenthood

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Abstract

Situations in which one partner is interested in having sex but the other partner is not “in the mood” are common in relationships. We extend previous work on sexual communal strength—the motivation to be responsive to a partner’s sexual needs—to demonstrate that in addition to the motivation to meet a partner’s need to have sex, the motivation to be understanding about a partner’s need not to engage in sex is uniquely associated with sexual and relationship satisfaction. In Study 1, we adapted a measure of sexual communal strength for having sex (SCSS) to create a new measure of sexual communal strength for not having sex (SCSN). We demonstrated that SCSN is distinct from SCSS and associated with more positive and less negative responses to an imagined situation of sexual rejection. In Study 2, both SCSS and SCSN were uniquely associated with greater sexual and relationship satisfaction in couples transitioning to parenthood—a time when many couples experience changes to their sexual relationship. Having a partner who is higher in SCSN is associated with greater sexual satisfaction and relationship quality for new mothers but not new fathers, suggesting that during the transition to parenthood, it might be more important for women to have a partner who is understanding about their need not to engage in sex. The results suggest that the motivation to be understanding about a partner’s need not to engage in sex may be an additional way that partners can show communal care in their sexual relationships.
ORIGINAL PAPER
Understanding When a Partner Is Not in the Mood: Sexual
Communal Strength in Couples Transitioning to Parenthood
Amy Muise
1
James J. Kim
2
Emily A. Impett
3
Natalie O. Rosen
4,5
Received: 12 April 2016 / Revised: 3 December 2016 / Accepted: 7 December 2016 / Published online: 21 March 2017
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017
Abstract Situations in which one partner is interested in having
sex but the other partner is not‘‘in the mood’’are common in relation-
ships. We extend previous work on sexual communal strength—the
motivation to be responsive to a partner’s sexual needs—to demon-
strate that in addition to the motivation to meet a partner’s need to
have sex, the motivation to be understanding about a partner’s need
not to engage in sex is uniquely associated with sexual and relation-
ship satisfaction. In Study 1, we adapted a measure of sexual commu-
nal strength for having sex (SCSS) to create a new measure of sexual
communal strength for not having sex (SCSN). We demonstrated
that SCSN is distinct from SCSS and associated with more positive
and less negative responses to an imagined situation of sexual rejec-
tion. In Study 2, both SCSS and SCSN were uniquely associated with
greater sexual and relationship satisfaction in couples transitioning to
parenthood—a time when many couples experience changes to their
sexual relationship. Having a partner who is higher in SCSN is asso-
ciated with greater sexual satisfaction and relationship quality for
new mothers but not new fathers, suggesting that during the transition
to parenthood, it might be more important for women to have a
partner who is understanding about their need not to engage in sex.
The results suggest that the motivation to be understanding about a
partner’s need not to engage in sex may be an additional way that
partners can show communal care in their sexual relationships.
Keywords Sexual motivation Sexual satisfaction
Relationship satisfaction Transition to parenthood
Couples Sexual communal strength
Introduction
Consider the following example of a long-term couple. John and
Kate have been married for three years and had their first baby six
months ago. One night after their daughter is asleep, John lets Kate
know that he is interested in having sex. Although Kate wants to
take the opportunity to connect with John, she is tired and not par-
ticularly in the mood for sex. Situations like these—in which one
partner is interested in having sex but the other partner is not‘‘in the
mood’—are common in long-term relationships (Davies, Katz, &
Jackson, 1999;Impett&Peplau,2003;Mark,2012;Mark&
Murray, 2012; Risch, Riley, & Lawler, 2003), but little research has
focused on how couples might better navigate these situations. Pre-
vious research demonstrates that, at times, engaging in sex with a
romantic partner to meet their needs, even in the absence of high
desire, can be beneficial for the relationship (Day, Muise, Joel, &
Impett, 2015;Impett&Peplau,2003). In fact, people high in sexual
communal strength—those who are motivated to be responsive to
their partner’s sexual needs—experience greater sexual and rela-
tionship satisfaction, as do their romantic partners (for a review, see
Muise & Impett, 2016).
However, when one partner experiences low desire, engaging in
sex may not always be beneficial for the relationship. If a person
declines their partner’s sexual advances, then having a partner who
responds well to being‘turned down for sex’’ is likely also impor-
tant for relationship well-being. For example, in John and Kate’s
&Amy Muise
muiseamy@yorku.ca
1
Department of Psychology, York University, Behavioural
Science Building, 4700 Keele St, Toronto, ON M3J 1P3,
Canada
2
Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto,
ON, Canada
3
Department of Psychology, University of Toronto Mississauga,
Mississauga, ON, Canada
4
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Dalhousie
University, Halifax, NS, Canada
5
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, IWK Health
Centre, Halifax, NS, Canada
123
Arch Sex Behav (2017) 46:1993–2006
DOI 10.1007/s10508-016-0920-2
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... Given that connecting more with one's values, and taking more action in line with values, are associated with less psychological distress more broadly (Grégoire et al., 2020), we examined whether women's sexual values, and success living in line with their sexual values, were associated with their sexual distress in a longitudinal study across the transition to parenthood. We focused on a partner-oriented sexual value -being the kind of sexual partner you want to be for your significant other -and success living in line with this partner-oriented sexual value, because relational factors tend to be motivating (Muise et al., 2017;Polk & Schoendorff, 2014) and new mothers' sexual difficulties commonly occur within relationships. We use the terms "sexual value" and "sexual success," respectively, throughout this paper for ease of readability. ...
... Given that new mothers commonly experience sexual concerns within relationships, their values and actions related to the kind of sexual partner they would like to be may be especially relevant to their sexual distress. In fact, new mothers who are more motivated to meet a partner's sexual needs report better sexual and relationship satisfaction themselves (Muise et al., 2017); thus, success living in line with partner-oriented sexual values may be protective for new mothers in the transition to parenthood. ...
... Greater clarity of values is associated with greater engagement in behaviors in line with values (Grégoire et al., 2020); thus, ACT strategies applied to sexuality may enable new mothers to find ways to live more in line with their values within their sexual relationship, which may alleviate their sexual distress. For example, exploration of sexual values could help women identify reasons to engage in sexual activity in pursuit of positive relationship outcomes (i.e., approach goals for sex), and/or connect with their motivations to meet a partner's sexual needs (termed sexual communal strength), both of which are associated with greater sexual and relationship satisfaction (Muise et al., 2013(Muise et al., , 2017. Such potential mechanisms for associations between sexual values, sexual success, and sexual wellbeing in the transition to parenthood could be explored in future work. ...
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In this project, we recruited a sample of couples coping with female sexual interest/arousal disorder (FSIAD) to investigate the role of sexual communal strength and unmitigated sexual communion in the sexual well-being and sexual goals of both women with FSIAD and their partners.
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