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Maintaining Sexual Desire in Long-Term Relationships: A Systematic Review and Conceptual Model

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The most universally experienced sexual response is sexual desire. Though research on this topic has increased in recent years, low and high desire are still problematized in clinical settings and the broader culture. However, despite knowledge that sexual desire ebbs and flows both within and between individuals, and that problems with sexual desire are strongly linked to problems with relationships, there is a critical gap in understanding the factors that contribute to maintaining sexual desire in the context of relationships. This article offers a systematic review of the literature to provide researchers, educators, clinicians, and the broader public with an overview and a conceptual model of nonclinical sexual desire in long-term relationships. First, we systematically identified peer-reviewed, English-language articles that focused on the maintenance of sexual desire in the context of nonclinical romantic relationships. Second, we reviewed a total of 64 articles that met inclusion criteria and synthesized them into factors using a socioecological framework categorized as individual, interpersonal, and societal in nature. These findings are used to build a conceptual model of maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships. Finally, we discuss the limitations of the existing research and suggest clear directions for future research.
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The Journal of Sex Research
ISSN: 0022-4499 (Print) 1559-8519 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/hjsr20
Maintaining Sexual Desire in Long-Term
Relationships: A Systematic Review and
Conceptual Model
Kristen P. Mark & Julie A. Lasslo
To cite this article: Kristen P. Mark & Julie A. Lasslo (2018): Maintaining Sexual Desire in Long-
Term Relationships: A Systematic Review and Conceptual Model, The Journal of Sex Research,
DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2018.1437592
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2018.1437592
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Published online: 09 Mar 2018.
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ANNUAL REVIEW OF SEX RESEARCH SPECIAL ISSUE
Maintaining Sexual Desire in Long-Term Relationships: A
Systematic Review and Conceptual Model
Kristen P. Mark
Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion, University of Kentucky
Julie A. Lasslo
Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion, University of Kentucky and Department of
Health Promotion & Administration, Eastern Kentucky University
The most universally experienced sexual response is sexual desire. Though research on this topic
has increased in recent years, low and high desire are still problematized in clinical settings and
the broader culture. However, despite knowledge that sexual desire ebbs and ows both within
and between individuals, and that problems with sexual desire are strongly linked to problems
with relationships, there is a critical gap in understanding the factors that contribute to
maintaining sexual desire in the context of relationships. This article offers a systematic review
of the literature to provide researchers, educators, clinicians, and the broader public with an
overview and a conceptual model of nonclinical sexual desire in long-term relationships. First,
we systematically identied peer-reviewed, English-language articles that focused on the main-
tenance of sexual desire in the context of nonclinical romantic relationships. Second, we
reviewed a total of 64 articles that met inclusion criteria and synthesized them into factors
using a socioecological framework categorized as individual, interpersonal, and societal in
nature. These ndings are used to build a conceptual model of maintaining sexual desire in
long-term relationships. Finally, we discuss the limitations of the existing research and suggest
clear directions for future research.
The question of what maintains sexual desire in long-term
relationships and the tendency for it to decrease over time
has long been a topic of interest to researchers, educators,
clinicians, and the broader public. It has also been repre-
sented in literature, media, and the arts across cultures.
Although this has led to several studies examining factors
associated with sexual desire, there has not been a synthesis
of the literature conducted in this area, nor do we have a
conceptual model for future research to build from currently.
The relevance of sexual desire to romantic relationships
is clear. Researchers have consistently reported on the func-
tion of sexual desire in ones sexual and relationship satis-
faction (Bridges & Horne, 2007; Davies, Katz, & Jackson,
1999; Mark, 2012,2014; Mark & Murray, 2012; Santtila
et al., 2007), and overall well-being (Apt, Hurlbert, Pierce,
& White, 1996; Davison, Bell, LaChina, Holden, & Davis,
2009). Maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships
can be difcult, with sexual desire issues ranking among the
most common to present in couples therapy (Ellison, 2002).
In addition, individual levels of sexual desire ebb and ow
for several reasons over the course of ones life (Acevedo &
Aron, 2009; Ellison, 2002; Ridley et al., 2006). This results
in inevitable instances of sexual desire discrepancy within a
couples relationship (Herbenick, Mullinax, & Mark, 2014),
where one member of the couple has lower or higher desire
relative to his or her partner (Mark & Murray, 2012).
Dening Sexual Desire
Sexual desire can be dened as the sexual drive, wish, or
motive to engage in sexual activity (Levine, 1987)orachieve
sexual intimacy (Mark, Herbenick, Fortenberry, Sanders, &
Correspondence should be addressed to Kristen P. Mark, University of
Kentucky, College of Education, Department of Kinesiology and Health
Promotion, 100 Seaton Building, Lexington, KY 40506. E-mail: kristen.
mark@uky.edu
Supplemental data for this article can be accessed here.
THE JOURNAL OF SEX RESEARCH,00(00), 119, 2018
Copyright © The Society for the Scientic Study of Sexuality
ISSN: 0022-4499 print/1559-8519 online
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2018.1437592
Reece, 2014), where a variety of factors may bring someone
toward or away from sexual behavior (Levine, 1987). The
object of ones sexual desire may vary considerably from one
person to another (Mark et al., 2014), and although sexual
desire is related to the frequency of sexual behavior, it can be
problematic to rely on sexual frequency as a proxy for sexual
desire (Brotto, 2010). Sexual desire is not a purely behavioral
construct (Brotto, 2010; Clement, 2002;Mark,2015). Using
sexual frequency as a proxy for sexual desire removes the
important contextual components of sexual desire, such as
the relationship dynamic (Mark, 2015), distress (Clement,
2002) and the relevance of sexually diverse relationships
where the frequency of sexual activity is not a marker of desire
or quality (Blair & Pukall, 2014). In addition, sexual desire is
not necessary for sexual activity (Brotto, Heiman, & Tolman,
2009), and sexual behavior is often engaged in for reasons
other than sexual desire (Basson, 2000; Cain et al., 2003;
Meston & Buss, 2007; Muise, 2017) or with the absence of
sexual desire altogether (Beck, Bozman, & Qualtrough, 1991).
Apurelybehavioraldenition of sexual desire becomes
further complicated by the enormous amount of individual
variability in sexual activity preferences (Schneidewind-
Skibbe, Hayes, Koochaki, Meyer, & Dennerstein, 2008).
Given that desire ebbs and ows over the course of oneslife
(Acevedo & Aron, 2009;Ellison,2002; Herbenick et al., 2014;
Ridley et al., 2006), sexual desire appears to be better con-
ceptualized as a state-like construct, rather than a stable trait
(Mark, 2015).
If the media were used to dene sexual desire, it would
appear spontaneous, exciting, and full of visual turn-ons
(Harris & Bartlett, 2009). This can be characteristic of sexual
desire at the beginning of a relationship, when many couples
are in the passionate love or limerence phase (Tennov, 1979)
of their relationships. This spontaneous and exciting form of
sexual desire is not as characteristic of sexual desire in
longer-term relationships, particularly once one enters the
companionate stage of love, and sexual desire may become
more responsive (Basson, 2000). There has been little empiri-
cal investigation into the distinguishing factors between spon-
taneous sexual desire and more responsive sexual desire,
though there has been theoretical discussion of this concept
in the desire literature (e.g., Basson, 2000,2001,2008;
Brotto, 2010; Everaerd & Laan, 1995;Klusmann,2002;
Laan & Both, 2008; Toates, 2009) and in popular culture
outlets (e.g., Nagoski, 2015).
Models of Sexual Desire
Masters and Johnson (1966)weretherst to provide
empirical evidence of the human sexual response cycle. In
their four-stage model, they focused on physiological
responses to sexual stimulation. Sexual response was
thought to be a linear process that worked through sexual
excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. Sexual desire
was excluded until Kaplan (1977)andLief(1977)pro-
posed the addition of sexual desire to Masters and
Johnsons sexual response model (1966) as a precursor
to sexual excitement. However, this model was similarly
linear and did not account for the many situations, parti-
cularly in longer-term relationships, where the experience
of sexual desire may follow, rather than precede, the
physiological response of sexual arousal (Laan & Both,
2008). Basson (2000,2001) also distinguished between
spontaneous and responsive sexual desire, where sponta-
neous desire is the drive that is more characteristic in
earlier relationships and responsive sexual desire is more
consistent with longer-term relationships. Given that no
sexual response is entirely spontaneous in naturemean-
ing that there is always some stimuli one is responding to,
consciously or subconsciouslyit may be overly simplis-
tic of us to categorize sexual desire in this way, as sexual
desire does not just happen independently of stimuli
(Both, Everaerd, & Laan, 2007), despite it seeming this
way in early romantic relationships. Semantics aside, sex-
ual desire does appear to function differently in early
relationships compared to longer-term relationships, and
it is important for researchers to continue to strive to
understand the complex ways in which sexual desire func-
tions within and outside of the context of long-term
relationships.
There has been an increase in attention paid to further under-
standing sexual desire in recent years, particularly related to low
sexual desire in women, leading up to the 2015 Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) approval of ibanserin in the United
States, the rst prescription drug to treat hypoactive sexual desire
disorder (HSDD) (FDA, 2015; Gellad, Flynn, & Alexander,
2015). Scientic and public discussion has increased around
the approval of ibanserin, approaches to womenssexualpro-
blems, and the medicalization (Conrad, 2013) that has accom-
panied this, all of which is beyond the scope of this article (see
Brotto (2015); Joffe et al. (2016); Levine (2015); and Tiefer
(2004,2012) for additional context). For many people, experi-
encing low sexual desire may be adaptive to other life factors
(Frost & Donovan, 2015), and we can learn about maintaining
sexual desire in long-term relationships from nonclinical indivi-
duals and couples. Using a holistic or biopsychosocial perspec-
tive, rather than a purely physiological perspective, is important
when examining sexual desire (Bitzer, Giraldi, & Pfaus, 2013).
Given the increased focus on sexual desire problems, particu-
larly in women, this review focuses on nonproblematic or non-
clinical experiences of sexual desire for women and men in the
context of long-term relationships. Perhaps relevant to the cur-
rent review is the therapeutic approach put forth by Foley, Kope,
and Sugrue (2011) that emphasizes desire, pleasure, eroticism,
andsatisfactionratherthanthefocusonarousalandorgasm
often emphasized in earlier work and more medicalized
approaches to treating sexual desire issues.
Distinguishing Desire and Arousal
Sexual desire and arousal are related but distinct constructs.
As noted, Kaplan (1977)andLief(1977) initially proposed the
addition of sexual desire to Masters and Johnsonssexual
response model (1966) as a precursor to sexual arousal.
MARK AND LASSLO
2
Through this work, the delineation was primarily focused on the
difference between psychological (desire) and physiological
(arousal) response. Sexual desire presented itself as a drive
that only occurred prior to arousal, and arousal was considered
the physiological response of lubrication, erection, and swelling
that followed the acknowledgment of an appealing sexual sti-
mulus. Since then, it has become clear that sexual desire may
either precede or follow the physiological response of sexual
arousal (Basson, 2000,2001;Bothetal.,2007; Goldey & van
Anders, 2012; Graham, Sanders, Milhausen, & McBride, 2004;
Laan & Both, 2008;Singer&Toates,1987) and sexual arousal
can be measured as either objective (physiological) or subjective
(self-report) as it is in most sexual psychophysiology research
(see Janssen (2007) for an overview). The incentive motivation
model (Both et al., 2007;Singer&Toates,1987) distinguishes
between sexual desire and arousal but acknowledges sexual
desire as emergent from sexual arousal, activated by external
sexual stimuli and reinforced by awareness of bodily and emo-
tional responses.
Some research has indicated that participants, particularly
female participants, may have difculty distinguishing between
desire and arousal (Graham et al., 2004). In addition, women
often present with both diminished sexual desire and inhibited
sexual arousal concurrently (Brotto & Luria, 2014). HSDD
and female sexual arousal disorder (FSAD) were removed and
a new category - "female sexual interest/arousal disorder
(FSIAD)-introducedintheshiftfromtheDiagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text
Revison (DSM-IV-TR) to the DSM-5 in 2013. Brotto (2010)
offered a detailed account of the rationale for the combination
of these two diagnoses, which is outside of the scope of this
review due to its focus specically on low sexual desire.
Goldey and van Anders (2012) provided evidence in a non-
clinical sample of women and men that desire and arousal are
indeed separate but related constructs, and sexual desire does
not always precede sexual arousal.
Despite this clear overlap between sexual desire and arousal,
they are distinct constructs (Bancroft, 2010; Regan & Atkins,
2006), and researchers can be more nuanced than the general
public in our approach to these constructs. We can clearly
differentiate between desire and arousal and the way in which
we measure these constructs. In fact, Brotto (2010)arguedthat
the difculty in dening sexual desire is inherent in how we as
researchers understand the concept and how women themselves
understand it, and that these two things may not be related. In
addition, the methods we use to assess sexual desire and sexual
arousal are very different, and researchers have shown that it is
possible to experience sexual arousal without feelings of sexual
desire (e.g., Beck et al., 1991; Brotto et al., 2009;OSullivan &
Allgeier, 1998). Therefore, this review focuses explicitly on
sexual desire, as distinct from sexual arousal.
Current Study
To address gaps in the synthesis of the sexual desire litera-
ture, this systematic review had three primary aims: to system-
atically review the literature on maintaining sexual desire in
the context of long-term romantic relationships; to propose a
conceptual model for understanding and studying sexual
desire as it functions in the context of a relationship based on
the factors that contribute to maintaining sexual desire in long-
term relationships; and to discuss the limitations of the existing
research and suggest clear directions for future research.
Methodology
In our review, we examine and synthesize the available
literature in peer-reviewed, English-language journals to deter-
mine the factors that contribute to maintaining sexual desire in
long-term relationships. Both authors independently searched
Google Scholar, PubMed, and PsycINFO using the search terms
desireOR sexual desireOR sexual motivationOR sex-
ual driveOR sex driveAND romantic relationshipOR
relationshipOR long-term relationshipOR couplesOR
intimate relationshipOR marriedOR marriage.Inclusion
criteria beyond keyword match were that the paper was written
in the English language, peer reviewed, with contribution to
understanding the maintenance of sexual desire in the context of
a romantic relationship. Differentiating between long-term rela-
tionships and other romantic relationships can be difcult, and
almost all studies used relationship length as a control variable
when available. Therefore, we did not use specicrelationship
length criteria for inclusion in the review, but the implications of
the ndings on maintaining desire in long-term relationships
were important. We excluded studies that did not examine
interpersonal processes which relate to desire or which were
focused on internal mechanistic regulators of desire (e.g., hor-
mone regulation, neural circuitry that mediates desire). We also
omitted articles that did not take interpersonal context into
consideration or used a clinical sample that specically and
exclusively examined sexual desire problems.
An initial search of the literature with all search terms
resulted in a total of 395,236 articles, prior to the removal of
duplicates and irrelevant titles, and prior to the addition of
29 articles based on reference list scans. The databases were
set to sort by relevance, allowing us to determine relevance
in order. First, titles of the articles were read until a clear
pattern emerged that indicated titles no longer contained
components of the initial search criteria (inclusion of sexual
desire or romantic relationships). This search resulted in 294
articles, which were then narrowed to 94 articles based on a
reading of the abstracts for inclusion. After manually
searching the 94 articlesreference lists, 29 additional arti-
cles were included (and are documented as included in the
initial 294). Of these 94 articles that matched the initial
search criteria, a more thorough read resulted in the exclu-
sion of 30 articles that did not meet inclusion criteria for
reasons such as having a focus on arousal not desire, focus
on internal mechanistic regulators (e.g., hormone specic),
and/or the lack of a relational component. Therefore, 64
articles met the inclusion criteria, and a table with the
design, desire specic instrument used, sample, and primary
ndings for all 64 of these articles is provided in a
MAINTAINING SEXUAL DESIRE IN RELATIONSHIPS
3
supplementary online le. A PRISMA owchart (Figure 1)
provides documentation of each step of the search based on
our inclusion criteria (Liberati et al., 2009). Due to our
interest in factors that contribute to maintaining sexual
desire in the context of a relationship, we eliminated studies
that did not have a specically relational component.
Building a Conceptual Model
Given the complexities of understanding sexual desire
and the extent to which it varies individually and interper-
sonally, it is not surprising that there are several factors that
contribute to sexual desire in long-term relationships. We
aimed to provide a model that utilizes a socioecological
approach (Bronfenbrenner, 1977) to sexual desire, exploring
three levels of inuence: individual, interpersonal (relation-
ship and partner factors), and societal (gender expectations,
cultural, social norms, social inequality). We were guided by
the systematic review of the literature provided in the rest of
this article, where scholars have described, and we have
synthesized, several factors that contribute to sexual desire
in long-term relationships. We constructed this conceptual
model to provide a framework for future research to build
from on the topic of maintaining sexual desire in long-term
relationships. A visual depiction of the model is provided in
Figure 2.
The innermost layer of the model, individual factors,
serves as the core component inuencing how an individual
interacts within his or her relationship and the society at
large. The individual experience can directly inuence the
experience of sexual desire within a couple. These factors
work interactively with interpersonal factors, all of which
are nested within the broader social context. The middle
layer of the model, interpersonal factors, focuses on the
interaction between the individuals in the romantic relation-
ship. The outermost layer of the model, societal factors,
provides a macrolevel approach and serves as the context
in which couples and individuals experience sexual desire.
Factors Associated with Sexual Desire
Our systematic review of the literature provided several
factors related to sexual desire in long-term relationships.
These are presented in the following sections, organized by
individual, interpersonal, and societal levels. This systema-
tic review of the literature provided us with the background
necessary to create our conceptual model of maintaining
sexual desire in long-term relationships (see Figure 2) that
we hope to be useful in future research and educational
efforts.
Individual Factors
Expectations. Realistic expectations that sexual desire
will ebb and ow throughout the relationship has been
shown in multiple studies to impact the maintenance of
Figure 1. PRISMA diagram of systematic selection of articles.
MARK AND LASSLO
4
sexual desire in long-term relationships (Ferreira, Fraenkel,
Narciso, & Novo, 2015; Herbenick et al., 2014; Murray,
Milhausen, & Sutherland, 2014; Sutherland, Rehman,
Fallis, & Goodnight, 2015). In both Ferreira et al.'s
qualitative study of 33 heterosexual couples and in Murray
et al.'s qualitative study of 20 women in long-term
heterosexual relationships, expectations that there were
going to be ups and downs in sexual desire were
perceived as a contributing factor to maintaining sexual
desire in the relationship (Ferreira, Narciso, Novo, &
Pereira, 2014; Murray, Sutherland, & Milhausen, 2012).
Sutherland and colleagues collected quantitative data in
two studies to examine sexual desire discrepancy, where
one member of the couple has higher or lower desire
relative to his or her partner, and they found that identify-
ing desire changes as normalwas helpful for protecting
against negative inuences of desire discrepancy
(Sutherland et al., 2015). This was also the case for
women in same-sex relationships, where women who
viewed desire changes as a normal part of their relation-
ships perceived this to be benecial to avoiding desire
discrepancy (Bridges & Horne, 2007). In a study of 179
women in long-term relationships, Herbenick and collea-
gues (2014) concluded that the expectation for sexual
desire to ebb and ow and to see sexual desire discre-
pancy as an expectation rather than a problem in the
relationship was helpful in addressing desire discrepancy
within their relationships.
Figure 2. Conceptual model of maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships.
MAINTAINING SEXUAL DESIRE IN RELATIONSHIPS
5
In addition, understanding that sexual desire uctuation is
inevitable and letting sexual desire just work itself out over
time was a good strategy for modulating desire discrepancy for
these heterosexual women (Herbenick et al., 2014). Perhaps by
normalizing individual uctuations in sexual desire over time,
and in turn expecting desire discrepancy in long-term relation-
ships, sexual desire may not be as negatively impacted (Mark,
2015;Murrayetal.,2012).
Attraction. Another commonly found individual-level
factor that contributes to long-term desire is an individuals
feelings of attraction to his or her partner, and this has been
studied in a few ways. For example, Basson (2000)
indicated that nding the object appealing or attractive
(called appreciation of the stimulusin her writing) was
an important factor for responsive and spontaneous sexual
desire. Similarly, attraction to ones partner may be
important when sexual desire is more responsive in nature,
particularly in women (Both et al., 2007) and attraction to
ones partner (conscious or unconscious) is important for
sexual desire functioning. Perel (2006) has also outlined the
power of cultivating desire through seeing your partner as
attractive from a distance, such as when they are excelling
in what they do.
Although most of the research in this area has been done
with women (e.g., Basson, 2000; Both et al., 2007), three
studies that examined men also found attraction to partner to
be important for sexual desire. Shrier and Blood (2016)
found that when men perceive their partner to be emotion-
ally stable, and they nd emotional stability attractive, they
have higher sexual desire. Ferreira and colleagues (2014)
found that attraction was important for mens sexual desire.
In addition, feeling like their partners were attracted to them
was important for maintenance of sexual desire.
Murray, Milhausen, Graham, and Kuczynski (2017) also
found that men feeling that their partners were attracted to
them was important for the maintenance of desire. Likewise,
women in emerging adulthood expressed that feeling sexy,
feeling as though their partner found them attractive, and
feeling that their partner was attentive were important fac-
tors in the maintenance of desire (Murray & Milhausen,
2012a; Ferreira et al., 2014). Naturally, researchers have
also found that a high baseline level of sexual desire and
attraction to partner is important for later maintaining that
desire (Murray et al., 2012). If attraction to partner is not
present, sexual desire may suffer (Both et al., 2007).
When attraction to partner wanes, it may lead to monot-
ony or routine in the relationship, which can have a negative
impact on sexual desire. Monotony regarding specic sex-
ual stimuli appears to be consistently associated with dif-
culty in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships
for both men (Carvalho & Nobre, 2011) and women
(Ferreira et al., 2015). Specically, Carvalho and Nobre
(2011) found that lack of erotic thought and fear of an
inability to maintain adequate arousal response were pro-
blems for men maintaining their sexual desire in long-term
relationships. It is possible these issues would create a
negative feedback loop, where continued lack of erotic
stimulation and fear of inadequate arousal response would
continue to feed into lack of desire which would, in turn,
perpetuate the cycle.
Both men and women reported that actual monotony and
the perception of monotony (Ferreira et al., 2015) and the
overfamiliarity with a partner (Sims & Meana, 2010)were
risk factors in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relation-
ships. In addition, despite cultural perception that men care
more about appearance than women, a study of emerging
adults indicated that lack of physical attraction to a partner
was a signicant factor in inhibiting sexual desire in women
(Murray & Milhausen, 2012a). Further, as might be expected
due to the benets of mindfulness-based approaches (Basson,
2008) for low sexual desire, lack of mindfulness and being
easily distracted has been found, especially among women, to
inhibit the maintenance of sexual desire (Dosch, Ghisletta, &
Van der Liden, 2016).
Cognitive focus. The ability for an individual to focus
on making the relationship a priority despite external factors
may be protective to sexual desire in long-term
relationships. There has been a good deal of work around
mindfulness having a positive impact on resolving sexual
desire problems, notably Brottos work (e.g., Brotto &
Basson, 2014), that due to its clinical focus did not meet
our search criteria for this systematic review. However,
Ferreira and colleagues (2015) found in their qualitative
analysis of protective strategies for sexual desire that
making time for the relationship, being free of stress, and
being intentional and invested in the relationship were all
protective factors related to cognitive focus in maintaining
sexual desire in long-term relationships. In addition, in a
study that examined mens protective factors for sexual
desire, Shrier and Blood (2016) found that when men use
their cognitive energy to focus on enjoying physical
intimacy, they are more likely to have high sexual desire.
In a few of the studies included in the systematic review,
emphasis was also placed on cognitive restructuring. For
example, McCarthy & Wald (2015) suggested that building
positive anticipation for the sexual encounter was important
for being able to maintain sexual desire in long-term rela-
tionships. This may be difcult to do in the context of a
long-term relationship, but when individuals in a relation-
ship commit to making sexual desire a priority and restruc-
ture their thoughts to match that, they may experience
benets related to desire. Consistent with a body of work
examining the role of mindfulness in dealing with problems
related to sexual desire, particularly in women (Brotto &
Basson, 2014; Brotto et al., 2009; McCall & Meston, 2006),
researchers found in their qualitative study of 20 women in
long-term, mixed-sex relationships that staying mentally
present was important to maintaining sexual desire
(Murray et al., 2014).
Autonomy. Maintaining a level of autonomy in a
relationship and being able to continue to have an identity
MARK AND LASSLO
6
that is separate from the couple identity has been shown to
contribute to the maintenance of sexual desire in the context
of a long-term relationship. In a qualitative study of 33
couples, autonomy in men and women was tied to a sense
of possibility and discovery in the relationship; maintaining
autonomy allows for innovation to take place in the
relationship (Ferreira et al., 2014). Having some distance
from ones partner and having an appreciation for that
distance was deemed important. In a follow-up
quantitative study of 66 people, differentiation of the self
(the ability to separate feelings and thoughts) from ones
partner was important to maintaining sexual desire but also
helped buffer against dissatisfaction in the relationship
(Ferreira, Narciso, Novo, & Pereira, 2016).
Ferreira and colleagues (Ferreira et al., 2014; Ferreira
et al., 2016) discussed how crucial differentiation of self is
to be able to regulate ones emotions and maintain a sup-
portive role as a partner; both of which were protective for
maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships. This
allows for individuals within a couple to maintain enough
othernessto protect against desire inhibiting boredom
(discussion follows in the section on interpersonal factors).
This idea has also begun to be communicated to the public
through Esther Perel in her widely watched TED Talk and
popular books on maintaining sexual desire in the context of
long-term relationships (Perel, 2017,2013,2006).
Attachment. Individual attachment style and its link
with sexual desire was examined by a few researchers and
studies provided mixed results in how it impacted sexual
desire. For example, individuals who were higher in anxious
attachment exhibited higher sexual desire for sexual activity
with their partner to restore emotional closeness (Birnbaum,
Mikulincer, & Austerlitz, 2013). In another study of
attachment and motivation for sex, Birnbaum (2010)
described the anxiously attached partners motivation for
sex as one that is often devoid of hedonistic reasons and
used to repair the relationship (Birnbaum, Weisberg, &
Simpson, 2011); and Birnbaum and Reis (2012) found that
those with secure attachment styles generally have positive
interactions with their partners and their partners with them.
Although not directly assessing sexual desire, one study did
nd that attachment style impacted what the underlying
motives for sex were such that those with attachment
anxiety wanted to please their partners and those with
avoidant attachment aimed to avoid negative consequences
in the relationship (Impett, Gordon, & Strachman, 2008).
This article did not meet the search criteria for our
systematic review but does suggest there is a gap in the
literature related to the link between attachment style and
sexual desire; there may be something more going on here
that warrants further investigation. We suggest researchers
further examine the ways in which individual attachment
style and compatibility of attachment style within a couple
impact the experience of sexual desire.
Although attachment style has been examined in terms of
sexual satisfaction (e.g., Butzer & Campbell, 2008; Hadden,
Smith, & Webster, 2014). It has not been directly examined
in the experience of sexual desire. It may be that attachment
style is as much an interpersonal factor as an individual
factor, depending on the compatibility between partners'
attachment styles. For example, it is currently unknown
whether certain attachment style combinations promote the
maintenance of sexual desire in long-term relationships.
Overall, it appears anxious attachment may provide a facade
of protection against diminishing desire in long-term rela-
tionships, which may not necessarily be positive for rela-
tional outcomes.
Individuals high in avoidant attachment tend to be at risk
for maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships. As
noted, additional research is needed in this area to examine
compatibility of attachment style within a dyad. It may be
that the true risk factor for low sexual desire is related to
lack of compatibility of attachment style, rather than indivi-
dual attachment style itself, but this has not yet been empiri-
cally tested. Previous research in relationship satisfaction
has indicated that when one member of the couple has
high avoidant attachment and another has high anxious
attachment, the relationship may be difcult to maintain
(Brennan & Shaver, 1995).
Perhaps this is also the case with maintenance of sexual
desire. If both members of the couple are avoidantly attached,
perhaps the lack of maintenance of sexual desire would not
be problematic in the relationship, and therefore this would
positively contribute to maintaining sexual desire in the rela-
tionship. More avoidantly attached individuals do not have
sexual desire for partners to avoid emotional closeness and
intimacy that comes with sexual interactions. Men who are
higher on avoidant attachment may still pursue sex, but they
will treat sex as the goal rather than using sex to feel intimacy
or closeness, as may be the case in more securely or
anxiously attached men (Birnbaum et al., 2013). For
women, those who are more anxiously attached tend to
conate sex and relational experiences, so negative interac-
tions with their partners decrease desire to want to be with
them, especially when sex is not able to be used as a coping
mechanism for lack of closeness (Davis et al., 2006).
Self-esteem. The self-esteem and condence individuals
have in themselves has been found to contribute to maintaining
sexual desire in relationships through a few studies. For
example, those whose perceptions of themselves as being sexy
(Murray & Milhausen, 2012a), exhibiting positive self-image
(Basson, 2008), and acknowledging that they are deserving of a
healthy sex life (McCarthy & Wald, 2015) have all been found
to contribute to the maintenance of sexual desire in long-term
relationships. Specically, McCarthy and Wald (2015) found
that when individuals within a couple promote a sense of
prioritizing themselves as sexual beings and deserving of
healthy sexuality in their relationship, sexual desire may
improve and may be maintained in long-term relationships. It
maybethattheformationofahealthysenseofsexualselfiskey
to being able to prioritize sex in relationships, thereby making
sexual desire a decision as much as a motivational response.
MAINTAINING SEXUAL DESIRE IN RELATIONSHIPS
7
In addition, Murray and Milhausen (2012b) found that
women who managed to maintain sexual desire in long-term
relationships self-identied as being more sexual beings
with high desireeven before the relationship began. This
may be indicative of the overlap between individual-level
sexual desire and desire for a specic partner. Perhaps
individuals who endorse a view of themselves as a sexual
being are more successful in maintaining sexual desire
through their long-term relationships. For men with
HSDD, those who reported higher levels of sexual asser-
tiveness than their female partners experienced the lowest
levels of sexual desire. In addition, men who reported the
highest amount of emotional reliance on others also reported
the lowest levels of desire (Apt, Hurlbert, & Powell, 1993).
It is less clear how sexual assertiveness would impact sexual
desire in nonclinical populations of men or clinical or non-
clinical populations of women.
Self-esteem, whereby one exhibits a high level of con-
dence, has been shown in prior relationships research to
be a very attractive quality (e.g., Eastwick, Luchies,
Finkel, & Hunt, 2014). Thus, it should not be surprising
that having low self-esteem may be negatively related to
maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships.
However, this has only been examined in women with
low self-image (Basson, 2008), low trust for partner
(Basson, 2008), and low body image (Dosch et al.,
2016) associated with lower sexual desire for partner.
Specically, women with poor body image tended to
have lower levels of sexual desire (Dosch et al., 2016)
due to the distracting thoughts that accompany poor body
image. Basson (2008) indicated low self-image as a risk
factor for maintaining sexual desire. However, it is possi-
ble for self-image to improve over the course of a long-
term relationship, resulting in negative self-image turning
to positive self-image and acting as a protective factor for
desire in the relationship (Dosch et al., 2016).
Individual-level trust issues, anxiety about the outcome
of the sexual encounter, and general distractions all are
negatively associated with maintaining desire in long-term
relationships for women (Basson, 2008). It is certainly fea-
sible that these would have the same impact on mens sexual
desire, especially given that there is some overlap between
men and women related to self-esteem (Gentile et al., 2009),
but future research needs to investigate this link.
Stress and fatigue. In a qualitative study of inhibiting
and enhancing factors for sexual desire, Ferreira et al.
(2014) found that stress was the most frequently stated
factor in disturbing sexual desire and was mostly related
to work or lack of time in men and women. Fatigue tends to
exacerbate the stress response. In addition, overall poor
health that impacted stress levels were found to be a
particularly problematic component for mens ability to
maintain sexual desire over time (Murray et al., 2017), and
low energy level may be an issue for maintenance of sexual
desire for women in long-term relationships (Ferreira et al.,
2014; Murray & Milhausen, 2012a). Murray and Milhausen
(2012a) conducted a qualitative study with 20 women in
long-term, mixed-sex relationships and found that
individual energy levels were a contributing factor to
sexual desire in relationships, and this could easily be tied
to several other individual factors within a relationship that
directly contribute to ones level of energy, such as getting
enough rest and managing stress levels.
In a qualitative study on bisexual, lesbian, and straight
women in long-term relationships, Rosenkrantz and Mark
(in press) found that stress positively and negatively con-
tributed to sexual desire, depending on the woman and her
context. Their interviews with 31 women alluded to the
possibility of there being a threshold level of stress where
stress shifts from being protective for desire (perhaps even
enhancing of desire) to diminishing desire. There were no
differences between the different orientation groups in their
account of this stress response. The role of stress in sexual
desire in the context of long-term relationships may be a
fruitful area for future research, particularly given the like-
lihood that couples in long-term relationships go through a
variety of types of stress together (i.e., life transitions, such
as transition to parenthood; deaths in the family; work
stress).
Related to stress and fatigue, the stress around having
children was also found to be an individual-level risk factor
for maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships,
mainly due to the amount of time and energy that is neces-
sary of child-rearing, as well as the fatigue that comes along
with it (Ferreira et al., 2014). In addition, women noted the
bodily changes and shift in the couple dynamics that accom-
pany having children as signicant factors that negatively
impacted their sexual desire. One additional factor related to
stress was that of trauma. Specically, if either member of
the couple, male or female, has had any trauma or history of
trauma, this has been found to be a fairly large risk factor in
maintaining sexual desire for women (McCarthy & Wald,
2012).
Interpersonal Factors
Sexual desire is often directed toward a specic partner.
Because our review focused on sexual desire in the context
of long-term relationships, many of the contributing factors
to sexual desire were interpersonal. In fact, interpersonal
factors were the most populated of all categories for our
conceptual model (see Figure 2); this highlights how crucial
interpersonal factors are to sexual desire.
Responsiveness to partner. Responsiveness is considered
an intimacy-building construct (Birnbaum & Reis, 2006), and
the perception of partner responsiveness has a positive impact
on sexual desire, especially in women (Birnbaum et al., 2016).
In addition, applying responsiveness to the sexual context, some
researchers have examined the role of meeting a partnersneeds
in sexual desire. In an examination of sexual communal strength
specically, exhibiting the motivation to meet a partners
sexual needsresearch has consistently found that people
MARK AND LASSLO
8
who are high in sexual communal strength have higher desire
(Muise & Impett, 2016) and are more likely to engage in sex
even when desire discrepancy exists (Day, Muise, Joel, &
Impett, 2015). When individuals are high in sexual communal
strength, they are more partner focused, with a greater
willingness to engage in sexual activity. This seems to
positively maintain not only sexual desire but also satisfaction
in the relationship (Day et al., 2015; Muise & Impett, 2016;
Muise, Impett, Kogan, & Desmarais, 2013). Research
conducted by Day and colleagues (2015) and further
supported by Muise, Impett, Kogan, et al. (2013), with daily
diary analysis on data collected from a sample of 88 mixed-sex
couples, found that individuals high in sexual communal
strength are also better able to maintain sexual desire over
time than individuals who do not have this characteristic.
This partner-focused approach to relationships is also
examined in terms of approach motives. In a sample of
undergraduate students in dating relationships, Impett,
Strachman, Finkel, and Gable (2008) found that approach
motives may serve as a buffer against decreases in sexual
desire over time and tended to predict increased sexual
desire in daily interactions. Participants who had strong
approach goals experienced greater sexual desire on good
relationship days and less of a decrease in desire on poor
relationship days. Overall, approach motivated sexual goals
are related to higher sexual desire (Muise, Impett, &
Desmarais, 2013; Muise, Impett, Kogan et al., 2013).
Further, when researchers created interventions aimed at
increasing approach goals, these were successful at increas-
ing sexual desire, regardless of age (Muise, Boudreau, &
Rosen, 2017). Daily diary research has also indicated that
sexual desire feeds into next-day desire within relationships
and partnerssexual desire can impact each others sexual
desire (Mark, Leistner, & Dai, under review). Specically,
in a 30-day daily electronic report of study mixed-sex cou-
ples, Mark et al. (under review) found that a partners level
of sexual desire was a strong predictor of next-day desire for
the partner, regardless of whether sexual activity occurred.
Another component of responsiveness to partner that has
been shown to contribute to maintaining sexual desire in
long-term relationships is related to effort. Ferreira and
colleagues (2014), in their qualitative investigation into
maintaining desire in long-term relationships, found that
the drive to invest in the couple relationship and make it a
priority was one of the most benecial approaches for
couples. This was also found by McCarthy (1999), such
that couples who have a commitment to confronting sexual
desire issues that may arise are better able to maintain
sexual desire over time. Other researchers have conrmed
this as an interpersonal factor for maintaining sexual desire.
Herbenick et al. (2014) found that, in women, meeting a
partners sexual needs by engaging in sex when desire is not
present improved desire and got desire back on track when
desire discrepancy came up. For men, their underperception
(perception of a lesser amount of desire than existed) led to
their partner feeling more satised and committed (Muise,
Stanton, Kim, & Impett, 2016). Partner attentiveness was
important for women in emerging adulthood relationships
(Murray & Milhausen, 2012a). To our knowledge, there has
not been any research done examining responsiveness in
nonheterosexual populations, and this is an important area
of future research.
Emotional intimacy. Sexual scripts in popular culture
would clearly support the role of emotional intimacy in
womens sexual desire, though not necessarily that in mens
sexual desire. However, this is empirically supported for both
women (Basson, 2000;Murrayetal.,2014)andmen(Ferreira
et al., 2014). For example, and related to the prior category of
responsiveness, being responsive to a partnersneeds
positively impacts intimacy, which positively inuences
desire; this link was particularly strong for women
(Birnbaum et al., 2016). In addition, for men in mixed-sex
relationships, increased level of emotional intimacy was
positively associated with increased desire, and higher levels
of intimacy were found to decrease the likelihood of low desire
(Stulhofer, Ferreira, & Landripet, 2014).
Ferreira et al. (2014) also found that a higher expression
of desire was associated with higher couple intimacy, and
for men, the effect of sexual desire on couple satisfaction
was fully mediated by intimacy. Partner responsiveness to
emotional closeness is also benecial for maintaining sexual
desire in individuals and partners (Brotto et al., 2009). In
addition, intimacy has been examined on a daily level.
Rubin and Campbell (2012) found, in a sample of mixed-
sex couples in long-term relationships, that intimacy on a
daily level may have an overall positive impact on sexual
desire in the long term.
Also related to intimacy, touch and having memories of
ones partner were important for maintaining sexual desire
over the longer term (Brotto et al., 2009). Increased inti-
macy reported by men was also related to higher sexual
desire (Sutherland et al., 2015),andengaginginintimate
and sexual communication has been found to positively
impact sexual desire (Murray & Milhausen, 2012a).
Researchers have found that even if sexual satisfaction is
low, high relational intimacy can buffer against the nega-
tives (Stephenson & Meston, 2010). Basson (2000)also
indicated that when intimacy increases in the relationship,
sexual desire should also increase. So it is possible that
individuals who feel intimate with their partners would see
benets in their sexual desire, and it is likely this relation-
ship is bidirectional. Overall, the literature points to inti-
macy as an important factor in maintaining sexual desire in
longer-term relationships for women and men, despite the
ideas in our culture that men are not driven by intimacy.
Communication. Given the strong link between
communication and satisfaction outcomes in relationships
(Byers & Demmons, 1999; Cupach & Comstock, 1990;
Mark & Jozkowski, 2013), it is not surprising that strong
communication between partners is an important
interpersonal factor for sexual desire. Sharing feelings
MAINTAINING SEXUAL DESIRE IN RELATIONSHIPS
9
about the relationship with a partner brings couples closer
and may increase desire (Ferreira et al., 2014). Increasing
sexual communication is shown to serve as a strong
protector of maintaining sexual desire in long-term, mixed-
sex relationships (Murray et al., 2014; Murray & Milhausen,
2012a). Communication about desire discrepancy is one of
the primary ways women report getting sexual desire back
on track within a relationship (Herbenick et al., 2014); for
men, engaging in intimate communication helped with
feeling sexual desire for their long-term partners (Murray
et al., 2017).
Although there has been very few studies that have
included LGBTQ* populations, Reece (1987), found that
strong communication promotes gay male couplessexual
desire. We suspect there is overlap in the factors that con-
tribute to maintaining sexual desire for LGBTQ* people in
long-term relationships as well, but this is an area of
research that is strikingly absent from the literature.
Communication is helpful for relationships and for dealing
with desire discrepancy, especially for men (Willoughby,
Farero, & Busby, 2014).
Self-expansion. The construct of self-expansion, rst
denedbyAronandAron(1986) as expansion of the self by
including the other in the self and engaging in opportunities for
growth, has been found in several studies to be relevant to
maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships. The way
it has been conceptualized in many of these studies is in the
realm of novelty. In Ferreira et al.s(2014) qualitative interview
study of risk and protective factors for sexual desire, breaking
routine and constantly changing to expose themselves to new,
positive experiences was very benecial for participants. For
example, a participant stated, [W]e always try to change
something, anything, even the decoration []wemustnd
space and opportunities so that there is something interesting,
otherwise you slide to monotony(p. 6). Expanding beyond
normsintherelationshipthroughengaginginpowergamesor
using novelty items also promoted sexual desire for men and
women (Ferreira et al., 2014).
In addition, engaging in irtatious behavior with a crush
but not crossing relational boundaries was also enhancing of
desire for ones partner in a study by Mullinax, Barnhart,
Mark, and Herbenick (2015). This theme of engaging in
extradyadic irtation to fuel the desire in the relationship
was also found by Ferreira et al. (2014). Innovation was the
most important protective factor in Ferreira et al.s study
(2014), and this referred to changing the daily routine and
allowing space for each other to learn something new.
Novelty was also found to be a meaningful way for
women to increase their desire when it feels low (Sims &
Meana, 2010). Indeed, a literature review by Singer and
Toates (1987) found that sexual motivation relies on
novelty.
Related to this novelty building, creating positive antici-
pation for sex within the relationship positively impacts
sexual desire (McCarthy & Wald, 2015). Engaging in
novel and exible sexual interactions and feeling free to
express these in the relationship protected sexual desire
(McCarthy & Wald, 2015). Unexpected sexual encounters
were particularly important for men ages 30 to 65 in long-
term relationships, and this fueled sexual desire for them
(Murray et al., 2017). When researchers tried to differentiate
between couples who had problems in sexual desire com-
pared to couples without problems in desire, sexual experi-
mentation was the most differentiating factor (Trudel,
Aubin, & Matte, 1995). In this study of mixed-sex couples,
this also impacted the extent to which sexual pleasure was
experienced and therefore decreased sexual desire over time
(Trudel et al., 1995).
Monotony. Popular culture and researchers alike can
say with condence that it is necessary to avoid monotony
in long-term relationships to keep desire alive (Ferreira
et al., 2014). Overfamiliarity of the partner and the
institutionalization of the relationship can result in a
desexualization of the couple (Sims & Meana, 2010). In a
review of the literature conducted in 1987, Singer and
Toates concluded that being in a routine was a problem in
maintaining sexual desire. This has not changed, and limited
research has been conducted on this topic. It is indeed an
area with room for growth.
Sexual compatibility. There has been some research
into sexual compatibility as it relates to sexual and
relationship satisfaction (Mark, Milhausen, & Maitland,
2013), but not as much research has examined sexual
desire. This may be an area for future research, as it
seems likely that sexual desire would be higher if a
couple wants and enjoys the same things sexually. As
noted in the individual factors section, Basson (2000,
2008) has acknowledged the importance of appreciating
the sexual stimulus and experiencing it in the appropriate
context. Some research has examined sexual
compatibility on a more behaviorally specic level. For
example, Apt, Hurlbert, Sarmiento, and Hurlbert (1996)
specically found that it was perceived sexual
compatibility for women and their desire to perform
fellatio on their male partners that signicantly and
uniquely predicted both members of the couples level
of sexual desire for each other.
Compatibility in terms of frequency of sex has also been
examined as an important factor. Specically, lower frequency
of sex, especially when desired frequency does not meet ones
partners desired frequency, can be problematic for sexual
desire (Willoughby et al., 2014). This may be particularly
relevant to explore in the asexual community (Brotto, Yule,
&Gorzalka,2015; Prause & Graham, 2007). In a sample of
mixed-sex couples, Mark and colleagues (2014)examinedthe
object of ones sexual desire and the compatibility with ones
partner in how these impacted sexual desire. They found that
when women had a higher desire for sexual release, touch, and
excitementthan their male partners, their sexual desire for their
partner was higher. The perceived level of sexual compatibility
with a partner, particularly by women, was signicantly related
MARK AND LASSLO
10
to partner desire (Apt, Hurlbert, et al., 1996). This is consistent
with the positive impact that perceived sexual compatibility
has on sexual and relationship satisfaction (Mark et al., 2013),
indicating there may be some interesting components of com-
patibility that could be further explored in research.
Perhaps, given the ndings of Mark and colleagues (2013),
level of sexual or relationship satisfaction may mediate the link
between compatibility and sexual desire, acting as a protective
mechanism within a relationship. This link should be explored
further. Another factor related to sexual compatibility involved
innovation in sexual activity. Ferreira et al. (2014) found that
unpredictability in terms of sexual activity was a strong pro-
tective factor for sexual desire. Furthermore, physical attrac-
tion to partner was shown to be a protective factor of desire in
women (Murray & Milhausen, 2012a).
Consistently, the sexual desire discrepancy literature has
indicated that greater desire discrepancies between partners,
regardless of the direction, negatively impact satisfaction in the
relationship. Greater discrepant desire was associated with
lower sexual satisfaction in women and lower relationship
satisfaction in men (Mark & Murray, 2012; Willoughby &
Vitas, 2012). Fewer studies have examined the specicinu-
ence of desire discrepancy on individual levels of desire, and
this is an area that could use further exploration by researchers.
Greater desire discrepancy was related to sexual and relation-
ship satisfaction, and the perception of this desire discrepancy
also impacted it; participants who thought they had higher
discrepancy had lower satisfaction (Davies et al., 1999).
In same-sex female couples with problematic desire dis-
crepancy, lower satisfaction and frequency of sex was
reported than those with nonproblematic desire discrepancy
(Bridges & Horne, 2007). Sexual desire discrepancy is a
problem for men in relationships with men, but easy acces-
sibility of sex may reduce the motivation to attempt to
overcome the desire discrepancies (Reece, 1987). Reece's
study was published in 1987, and accessibility of sex, parti-
cularly for gay men, is presumably higher now than it was
then (with technology providing aid in partner availability).
Perhaps we are less likely to work through desire discre-
pancies now that we have so many other potential partners
at our disposal. Discrepant levels of sexual assertiveness,
when men have higher sexual desire than their female
partners, have been found to negatively impact mens desire
in long-term relationships (Apt et al., 1993).
Two studies have examined daily level desire discre-
pancy and found that it also negatively impacts sexual
desire and satisfaction. Specically, discrepant daily desire
negatively impacts quality of the sexual experience (Mark,
2014). Additionally, discrepancies in the specic object of
ones desire can impact level of desire for partner. For
example, when there is a discrepancy in the desire to be
desired by a partner, where one partner wants to feel wanted
by their partner more than the other, this can negatively
impact sexual desire (Mark et al., 2014).
Satisfaction. There has been a strong link in several
studies between satisfaction in ones relationship and sexual
desire. It appears that we have a strong base of evidence to
support that sexually and relationally satised couples are
also the couples with higher sexual desire. Research is also
showing that these are important for the maintenance of
sexual desire over the long term. In fact, one of the
primary contextual factors noted in pushing against a
medicalization approach to treating low sexual desire is
the fact that so often it is simply a low satisfaction issue,
rather than low desire per se. In addition, sexual and
relationship satisfaction are very intertwined with each
other (Apt, Hurlbert, Pierce, et al., 1996; Byers, 2001;
Hurlbert & Apt, 1994), so it is reasonable to assume that
their link with sexual desire might be similar. However,
research has shown a slightly stronger link between sexual
satisfaction and desire than relationship satisfaction and
desire (Mark, 2012; Mark & Murray, 2012), most likely
due to the sexual nature of both.
With regard to relationship satisfaction, this signicant
positive link has been found in married heterosexual couples
(Brezsnyak & Whisman, 2004; Ferreira et al., 2016),
women (Murray et al., 2014), and men's perception of
strong relationship quality signicantly positively impacted
their higher and more stable levels of sexual desire (Shrier
& Blood, 2016). A few studies found that, for men, relation-
ship satisfaction was inversely related to sexual desire. For
example, Birnbaum et al. (2013) found that relationship
conict positively impacted sexual desire. They indicated
this may be related to attachment style (see overview in
individual-level factors), such that perhaps high sexual
desire during relational conict or relational dissatisfaction
was a coping mechanism for articially bringing partners
closer when they feel intimately distant. Gender proved to
be more predictive than attachment style for how conict
affected partner attractiveness and subsequent desire. Some
view conict as an avenue to work through and build
intimacy, while others (likely more avoidantly attached
individuals) may perceive that conict as rejection.
Women have been constructed as the gatekeepers of sex.
It may be that the female partner is coping and sexual
motivation impacts the ways in which sex will be handled
after the conict. Women have been shown to need more
intimacy, whereas men more sexual pleasure (Basson, 2000,
2001; Mark et al., 2014). In Birnbaum et al.'s study (2013),
they based their hypotheses on previous research (Basson,
2001; Diamond, 2003) suggesting that womens desire is
more responsive to changes in the interpersonal dynamic
and male sexual desire is motivated by more internal factors
causing physiological arousal (including conict).
Therefore, conict is arousing to the senses in myriad
ways for men, which in turn may positively impact their
sexual desire. McCarthy (1999) indicates that relational
strife reduces a partners sexual desirability for women. In
addition, in studies by Mark et al. (2014) and Mark (2012),
when a conict existed where men had higher desire to be
desired than their partner, sexual desire for the partner
increased. The link has been clear between higher sexual
satisfaction being related to higher desire levels (Mark,
MAINTAINING SEXUAL DESIRE IN RELATIONSHIPS
11
2012). When sexual satisfaction is higher, especially among
women, sexual desire discrepancy tends to be lower (Mark
& Murray, 2012).
Several studies supported the link between sexual desire
and sexual and relationship satisfaction. Brezsnyak and
Whisman (2004) found that sexual desire was signicantly
predicted by marital satisfaction in a sample of married
people. Although most of these studies examined hetero-
sexual or mixed-sex relationships, sexual satisfaction may
be a protective factor in desire for women in same-sex
relationships (Cohen & Byers, 2014). In addition to being
positively related to desire, couple satisfaction was also
related to differentiation of self. Partner similarity regarding
differentiation of self was signicantly predictive of sexual
desire (Ferreira et al., 2016).
It seems intuitive that conict with ones partner would
contribute to a decrease in sexual desire in long-term rela-
tionships, and this has received empirical support for
women and men (Birnbaum et al., 2013; Ferreira et al.,
2014). Specically, women and men in Ferreira and collea-
gues(2014) qualitative interview study of long-term cou-
ples said that there was not any space left for desire when
conict took up space and energy in their relationship.
Related to conict and lack of communication is the avoid-
ance of the fact that sexual desire declines in relationships.
McCarthy (1999) found, based on a case study, that this was
crucial to avoid the decline of desire in a long-term relation-
ship. Further, overall sexual avoidance, particularly in men,
is an issue for sexual desire (McCarthy & Wald, 2012).
Lack of partner attention was also found to be a signicant
risk factor in maintaining sexual desire in the context of
relationships (Murray & Milhausen, 2012a), and the sexual
power struggle, where men desire more sexual interaction
and women do not, and this builds resentment in the rela-
tionship (McCarthy & Farr, 2012). This ends up playing a
negative role in the relationship and can contribute to low-
ered desire and decreased satisfaction.
In line with the work on avoidance conict, when men
and women engage in sex for avoidance goals, like trying to
avoid a ght or conict within the relationship, this has been
shown to be a risk factor in maintaining sexual desire in
long-term relationships (Muise, Impett, & Desmarais,
2013). In addition, men may feel societal and partner pres-
sure to initiate sex even when they do not experience
desire (Murray et al., 2017) and conict within the person-
ality styles in the relationship was found to be problematic
in same-sex male couples (Reece, 1987). Partner conict
has also led to women seeing their partner as less sexually
attractive, but researchers caution that avoidance seems to
be the issue here, not partner conict per se (Birnbaum et al.
(2013). Couple conict disturbed desire for both men and
women but was slightly higher for women (Ferreira et al.,
2014). Not working together as a team, lack of intimacy,
and lack of a sexual voice within the partnership decreases
sexual desire (McCarthy & Wald, 2012). Two studies exam-
ined emotional reliance as a risk factor, specically for men.
These ndings indicated that men who showed higher
emotional reliance on others generally had lower sexual
desire in their long-term relationships (Apt et al., 1993).
Yet men who felt a lack of emotional connection with
their partners experienced lower sexual desire as well
(Murray et al., 2017). The way in which emotional reliance
may feed into relational conict is unclear, and future
research could further examine this link in order to under-
stand its role in maintaining sexual desire in long-term
relationships.
Just as sexual satisfaction is a protective factor, sexual
dissatisfaction is a risk factor in maintaining sexual desire in
long-term relationships. There are some gender differences
in this link. For example, men who reported feeling men-
tally and sexually dissatised reported the lowest levels of
desire, but this was not the case for women. For women, it
was more about their perception of the marriage regardless
of sexual dissatisfaction (Hurlbert & Apt, 1994). Unique to
women, sexual dissatisfaction and dissatisfaction with part-
ner communication skills signicantly impacted their ability
and desire to repair their low sexual desire (Trudel, Fortin,
& Matte, 1997). Difculties in the ability to sexually adapt
to each other is difcult for people with desire problems but
is not an issue for people without desire problems (Trudel
et al., 1997). Sexual dissatisfaction was signicantly related
to sexual desire discrepancy in mixed-sex couples (Mark,
2012,2015; Mark & Murray, 2012; Willoughby & Vitas,
2012). It is also notable that for those that identify as
asexual the desire for dyadic relational intimacy without
the presence of sexual desire and subsequent sexual satis-
faction can be difcult to navigate with a partner (Brotto
et al., 2015). For this reason asexual individuals often
experience difculty establishing nonsexual intimate rela-
tionships (Prause & Graham, 2007). Further research into
the establishment of dyadic intimate relationships among
asexual individuals and relationship maintenance exclusive
of sexual desire is needed to better understand satisfaction
among this population.
Relationship length. A common cultural script is that
sexual desire decreases as relationship length increases.
Although there has been some support for this (e.g.,
Klusmann, 2002), the research is not entirely conclusive.
Although length of relationship had a negative impact on
sexual desire for women and is a risk factor in 18- to 25-
year-olds, it made no difference in men (Murray &
Milhausen, 2012b). Greater relationship length was also
indicated to be a risk factor in women only in a literature
review of changes in sexuality across time, relationships,
and sociocultural context conducted by Ainsworth and
Baumeister (2012). In a sample of 1,865 individuals in
mixed-sex relationships, Klusmann (2002) found that
desire declined for women over time, but not for men, and
desire for tenderness in the relationship declined for men
and increased for women over time. However, as reported in
the book The Normal Bar, desire for tenderness increased
over time for both men and women (Northrup, Schwartz, &
Witte, 2014). In addition, in two studies with a total sample
MARK AND LASSLO
12
of 915 people, Mark, Leistner, and Garcia (2016) found that
age and relationship length (presumably related to each
other) were more important than womens contraceptive
method in predicting sexual desire. As the initial
excitement phase of the relationship wanes, so does desire
(Sims & Meana, 2010).
There is something unique to women with relationship
length acting as a risk factor for them. It may be that women
take on more responsibility as the relationship increases in
length and are perhaps more sensitive to the environmental
relationship changes. It would be benecial to see how
relationship length impacts sexual desire in same-sex rela-
tionships, particularly in the lesbian context, to understand if
it is something about the interaction between women and
men or women as individuals that is leading to these nd-
ings. McCarthy and Wald (2012) indicated that when a
couple has a hard time bringing passionate love into com-
panionate love, this can create a conict in the sexual
voiceof the relationship, and therefore sexual desire
decreases for both men and women in the relationship as
relationship length increases. We propose that relationship
length as a risk factor may be more about other factors that
accompany relationship length rather than relationship
length itself. Therefore, we encourage researchers to
acknowledge the contextual features of the relationship
when examining relationship length as a potential risk factor
for maintaining desire. Sexual desire commonly decreases
as length of relationship increases, but this is not necessarily
due to relationship length itself.
Societal Factors
The outermost layer of the conceptual model, societal
factors, provides the larger social context within which
individuals and couples experience sexual desire. The
research to specically examine the societal inuences into
maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships has
been limited. We encourage researchers to begin examining
some of these broader constructs that may signicantly
contribute to sexual desire in long-term relationships. This
is an area with ample future research opportunities, and we
encourage researchers to explore this as a priority.
Gendered expectations. We are a product of the
social norms within our society. This is particularly
relevant to the gendered nature of sexual desire. The
societal expectations for sexual desire in men and women
are very different (Murray, 2018). This is an example of an
area where future research could benet. It is plausible that
in cultures where gender equality is stronger, perhaps it is
easier to maintain sexual desire over the long term.
Research on the direct cultural comparative perspective for
maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships has not
been conducted and/or published. These data are available
for sexual satisfaction (Heiman et al., 2011), though
discussion around each countrys gender norms was not
the focus for this research, and it is difcult to determine
whether we would expect to see this impact sexual desire.
Research investigating gender differences in sexual
desire has been plentiful, with most research focusing on
detecting differences between men and women. In a review
of gender differences and similarities in sexual desire,
Dawson and Chivers (2014a) concluded that recent research
is consistently nding more similarities than differences
between men and women regarding desire. Recent research
reiterates these ndings concerning desire and gender
(Ferreira et al., 2014) but also indicate that there are greater
similarities between men and women regarding sexual
desire discrepancies than previously supposed (Mark,
2015). There may be some gender differences in terms of
the object of ones sexual desire (Mark et al., 2014), overall
sexual desire which may be inuenced by masturbation (van
Anders, 2012), and for women, discrepancies in the object
of sexual desire (Mark et al., 2014). However, based on our
systematic review of the literature, we suggest researchers
aim to examine individual differences within each gender
rather than focus on gender differences in their future
research. The assumption that men have higher sexual
desire than women overall is simply not consistently sup-
ported by the data in the context of relationships. It may be
that desire is not impacted by being a woman; rather, it is
the societal expectations of being a woman that negatively
impact women rather than men. Further, there has been little
research dedicated to femininity and masculinity as distinct
constructs from womanhood and manhood. This not only
minimizes the variation within each gender but also ignores
nonbinary gender. Our understanding of the impact of gen-
der, gendered expectations, and gender roles on maintaining
sexual desire in long-term relationships would benet from
amore nuanced approach to gender itself.
Egalitarianism. The idea that all people in a relationship
should contribute equally within the relationship has been
examined as it relates to sexual desire in long-term
relationships. This study found it may positively impact sexual
desire in long-term relationships, where more egalitarian
relationships were related to higher levels of sexual desire
from both partners (Brezsnyak & Whisman, 2004). Perhaps
there is something unique about sexual desire and the power
dynamic that is maintained with more egalitarian relationships.
More research is needed in this area to further understand the
role in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships.
Related to this construct, Rosenkrantz and Mark (2018)
found in their qualitative study of bisexual, lesbian, and
straight women in long-term relationships that shifting cul-
tural views regarding the acceptability of nonheterosexual
relationships was benecial for maintaining sexual desire in
long-term relationships in the lesbian and bisexual women
interviewed. These women indicated that the movements
toward equality that they could feel on a societal level
contributed to less minority stress and provided room for
more sexual desire for these women. It is entirely feasible
MAINTAINING SEXUAL DESIRE IN RELATIONSHIPS
13
this would be the case in men as well, but such research has
not yet been conducted in sexual minority men.
Sexual power struggle. Societal expectations for
masculinity and femininity have created a culture where
men are the sexual aggressors who are expected to seek
and maintain power in a sexual relationship. This is not an
environment where sexual desire in long-term relationships
succeeds. Specically, expectations of gender roles and
societal pressure to t masculine sexual scripts were
deemed a risk factor in sexual desire in long-term
relationships for men (Murray, 2018), and stigmatization
of low desire in men may negatively impact satisfaction in
men (McCarthy & McDonald, 2009). In fact, societal
expectations have resulted in men feeling like they should
consistently report high levels of sexual desire even when
they do not feel desire. So, they might feign desire when
they do not t that script (Murray, 2018).
McCarthy and Wald (2012) discussed how sexual power
struggles within a relationship can be difcult to work with
regarding sexual desire. In addition, there is a power struggle
that is inherent to the social structures of what is prioritized in
our culture. This is relevant to both gender and sexual identity.
For example, in our heterosexist culture, heterosexual sex is
prioritized. Minority stress, such as heterosexist discrimina-
tion, stigmatized identities, coming out, and the impact of
visible/safe spaces, was found to negatively impact sexual
minority womens experience of sexual desire in long-term
relationships (Rosenkrantz & Mark, in press). Research from
the mid-1990s (Hurlbert & Apt, 1994) indicated that lesbians
had lower sexual desire and sexual frequency. However, more
recently, Holmberg and Blair (2009) found that there were no
signicant differences in levels of desire between lesbian and
straight women. One explanation for this may be due to levels
of minority stress decreasing over the past 20 years. However,
until recently (e.g., Mark, Toland, Rosenkrantz, Brown, &
Hong, 2018), many of our measurement tools used in research
have been psychometrically validated only in heterosexual
samples. Thus, another equally plausible explanation is that
measurement of sexual desire and satisfaction has been limited
in sexual minority participants.
Restrictive sexual attitudes. Two studies met our
search criteria and explicitly examined the role of sexual
attitudes in sexual desire in long-term relationships. In a
study of men, Carvalho and Nobre (2011) examined
predictors of sexual desire and found that feeling sad or
ashamed about sex was a predictor of low desire (Carvalho
& Nobre, 2011). In an interview study of bisexual, lesbian,
and heterosexual women, Rosenkrantz and Mark (in press)
found that attitudes toward sexuality as taboo was a salient
theme for all women in the study as a barrier to maintaining
sexual desire in long-term relationships. This study suggests
that the sociocultural context can inuence the sexual desire
of diverse women and it is important to understand the
impact of systems of privilege and oppression (e.g.,
sexism, heterosexism, racism), particularly on womens
sexual desire. Based on our systematic review, it appears
that both men and women are negatively impacted by
restrictive sexual attitudes on a societal level.
Something that may feed into decreasing restrictive sexual
attitudes is comprehensive sex education. Despite our under-
standing of the importance and benet of comprehensive sex
education in the development of healthy relationships and
sexual health (Santelli et al., 2017), comprehensive sex educa-
tion is still not taught in most schools throughout the United
States. Comprehensive sex education has the potential to sig-
nicantly impact the cultural scripts around consent, healthy
relationships, and negotiation of sexual agency with partners
from adolescence onward. Incorporation of sexual desire spe-
cically into sex education was rst suggested by Michelle
Fine, in her seminal 1988 article about the missing discourse of
sexual desire (Fine, 1988). There has been discussion around
how to integrate sexual desire into sex education efforts (e.g.,
Lamb, Lustig, & Graling, 2013; Tolman, 2005), but the impact
of this on future sexual relationships has not yet been pursued.
We see this as an important area for future research.
General Discussion
Fluctuations in sexual desire within an individual are due to
several issues on the individual, interpersonal, and societal
level. The function of sexual desire is important to relation-
ships, with researchers clearly demonstrating its impact on
sexual and relationship satisfaction (Bridges & Horne, 2007;
Davies et al., 1999;Mark,2012,2014; Mark & Murray, 2012;
Santtila et al., 2007) and overall well-being (Apt, Hurlbert,
Pierce, et al., 1996; Davison et al., 2009). Although sexual
desire issues rank among the most common to present in
couples therapy (Ellison, 2002), couples can apply several
factors based on the empirical literature to sustain healthy
sexual desire in long-term relationships. Our conceptual fra-
mework is helpful for researchers to use as a guide of the work
that has been done and where to go moving forward, for
clinicians to offer suggestions to couples or individuals who
present in couples therapy with this common complaint on
what works for nonclinical samples, and for the general public
in nding ways to apply what we have learned as researchers
to their own long-term relationships. In this discussion, we
highlight the implications for those audiences, as well as point
out limitations in our empirical body of work thus far and
indicate clear directions for future research, of which there are
many. We anticipate the proposed conceptual model will
evolve as more work is done in this area, particularly work
that includes more samples of couples and diverse populations.
Interestingly, sexual desire is perhaps one of the most likely
sexual constructs to be discussed in a stereotypically gendered
way. There are clear assumptions in our culture that women
have lower sexual desire than men and that it is abnormal for
womentohavehighsexualdesireorformentohavelowsexual
desire. However, research in recent years has clearly shown that
these gender-based assumptions about sexual desire are not
MARK AND LASSLO
14
supported by data (Dawson & Chivers, 2014b), and there are
more variations within each gender than between (Ferreira et al.,
2014;Mark,2015). Rather than assuming gender differences,
we encourage researchers to approach their empirical investiga-
tions with questions of gender similarity. If we use the lens of
gender similarity rather than difference, we may begin to
approach gender equality within the research we conduct.
Another way to acknowledge this in our desire research is to
include more men in sexual desire studies and test for signicant
gender differences before assuming that analyses need to be
done for men and women separately. That said, we should also
be critical of our measurement tools we use to assess sexual
desire,astheremaybeareportingbiasinthewaysmenand
women answer our questions. Indeed, McClelland (2011) found
that when asked about sexual satisfaction, women are more
likely to consider the satisfaction of their partners rather than
themselves. There have not been similarly critical evaluations of
measurements of sexual desire, and it would be useful to gain
additional psychometric information about our measurement
tools, because the ndings we report are only as strong as
their measurement.
Related to our conceptualization of sexual desire, there is still
a lack of strong empirical work differentiating between spon-
taneousor, more characteristically, early-relationship sexual
desire and responsiveor, more characteristically, longer-term
relationship sexual desire. Our measurements of sexual desire
do not currently differentiate between different types of sexual
desire, and our measurement tools tend to focus on sexual desire
as more of a trait than a state. However, we found a good deal of
research, much of which was discussed in this review, that
supports sexual desire as a state. It seems clear that we would
benet from researchers examining the psychometric properties
of existing scales and potentially creating new measurement
tools to ensure that we are measuring what we think we are
measuring.
A very clear limitation of the studies in maintaining
sexual desire in long-term relationships concerns that of
diversity. Of the 64 studies that met our inclusion criteria
and were reviewed, only three (5.2%) examined sexual
desire in the context of same-sex relationships (Bridges &
Horne, 2007; Reece, 1987; Rosenkrantz & Mark, in press).
Although there has been an increase in attention paid to
same-sex relationships, and the representation of sexual
diversity has increased in sex research in the past decade,
many of those studies are focusing on risk reduction or
purely behavioral components of sexual health. Despite
same-sex couples engaging in long-term relationships as
often as straight couples, the research being conducted in
these samples is certainly not focused on the maintenance of
sexual desire in long-term relationships. In the research that
has been conducted on maintaining sexual desire in long-
term relationships, there are several similarities to hetero-
sexual couples.
In addition, many of the studies did not report on the race/
ethnicity of their samples, and therefore we do not know how
racially diverse they are. However, the lack of reporting on
this construct leads us to believe that they are most likely
primarily White samples, with underrepresentation of racial
and ethnic minorities in the research. Researchers should
strive to understand the role of race and ethnicity in indivi-
dual experiences of desire within the context of a relation-
ship. We anticipate there would be several additional social
factors that would be integrated into the experience of sexual
desire due to diversity in attitudes toward sexuality, sex
education, and minority stress, particularly related to gender
or sexual identity intersectionality with race/ethnicity, that
mayimpactsexualdesire.
Another area related to lack of diversity in the couples
focused on in the current review is related to monogamy.
Like the primacy of heterosexuality in our culture, our
culture also provides privilege to monogamy, and this is a
clear bias in the research. Of the studies that met the criteria
for this systematic review, monogamous relationships were
a consistent feature. Given that a very salient protective
factor was novelty and a risk factor was monotony, it
would be benecial for researchers to examine the ways in
which sexual desire functions on the dyadic level in con-
sensually nonmonogamous long-term couples. Although
this may be a difcult population to reach, insights into
the role of monotony, novelty, commitment, satisfaction,
and trust as they relate to maintaining sexual desire over
time would be fascinating.
It is worthwhile to note that examining the maintenance of
any variable over time is time and labor intensive. Several of
the studies reviewed relied on retrospective reports or daily
electronic reports. Those are certainly insightful, but it would
be ideal to be able to follow couples over the course of their
relationship and regularly monitor the mechanisms that inu-
ence their sexual desire; we did not nd any such studies that
did this specic to sexual desire. In addition, conducting
research in the context of couples is labor intensive. It requires
a great deal of effort in recruitment, retention (especially if
longitudinal), data cleaning, and data analysis (Mark &
Leistner, 2014). However, the contextual advantage and ana-
lytic exibility achieved by conducting research in couples is
well worth the effort. In our review, fewer than half of the
studies that met the search criteria involved couples in their
samples. Although this is much higher than we nd in the
general sexual desire literature, it is still low given that the
search criteria explicitly required interpersonal relationship
context to be a focus of the study.
Overall, this systematic review and the resulting con-
ceptual model provides a way forward in looking at main-
taining sexual desire in long-term relationships. Sexual
desire does not always have to be high to be maintained
or good. In fact, we found in this review that if people
expect sexual desire to uctuate, they may be better off in
their relationship (Herbenick et al., 2014;Murrayetal.,
2012:Sutherlandetal.,2015). Sexual desire should be
considered in the context within which it exists: the indi-
vidual, interpersonal, and societal. Overall, our work sug-
gests that researchers need to increase efforts in
recruitment of diverse samples and work to further under-
stand the dyadic nature of sexual desire by recruiting
MAINTAINING SEXUAL DESIRE IN RELATIONSHIPS
15
couples into studies of sexual desire. There are several
risk and protective factors in maintaining sexual desire in
long-term relationships, and the conceptual model we put
forthaimstosynthesizetheseandprovideaframework
for exploring additional facets of sexual desire in future
research. The decline of sexual desire over the course of
long-term relationships is a common, but not necessary,
part of long-term relationships.
Acknowledgments
Thank you to the thoughtful reviewers who took a great deal
of care and time providing us with meaningful feedback that
genuinely improved the quality of the manuscript.
ORCID
Kristen P. Mark http://orcid.org/0000-0002-0524-3357
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... Nonetheless, empirical exploration and testing of these clinical models is largely missing. Conversely, empirical research is generating a growing body of evidence for the importance of partner effects on sexual desire (Mark & Lasslo, 2018). However, these effects have as yet not been well-integrated in theoretical models of sexual desire. ...
... Reflection on sexual experiences broadly relates to analyzing past experiences and planning future behaviors (Horne & Zimmer-Gembeck, 20066). Examples of deploying such reflection in a positive or constructive manner have indeed been linked to increased dyadic sexual desire, and include building positive anticipation for a sexual encounter or committing to making sexuality a priority (Mark & Lasslo, 2018;McCarthy & Wald, 2015). The lack of sexual reflection, on the contrary, is considered harmful for dyadic sexual desire. ...
... In incentive motivation model's terminology, DIADICS describes a couple's sexual system whose sensitivity is defined by dyadic processes, just as the sensitivity of each partner's sexual system is defined by individual processes. As empirical evidence suggests that processes on both levels are significant for sexual desire (Mark & Lasslo, 2018), the individual and couple sexual systems may be considered jointly responsible for regulating sexual desire between partners in a romantic relationship. Of course, this is only one of the possible avenues to integrate DIADICS' insights in existing models of sexual desire, worth further theoretical and empirical consideration. ...
Article
Full-text available
In most theoretical models, sexual desire for one’s partner is predominantly conceptualized from an individual perspective. There is, however, a growing body of empirical evidence on the dyadic aspects of sexual desire. That evidence is as yet not well-integrated into theoretical conceptualizations of sexual desire. Aiming to fill this gap, we present the Dyadic Interactions Affecting DyadIC Sexual desire model (DIADICS), a new conceptual model inspired by systems theory that describes how dyadic interactions between partners influence dyadic sexual desire in romantic relationships. After defining dyadic sexual desire, we discuss (1) the structure of dyadic interactions, (2) their content, and (3) the process through which they affect dyadic sexual desire in a romantic relationship. Thereafter, we review theoretical, clinical, and empirical insights underscoring the relation between dyadic interactions and (dyadic) sexual desire, use DIADICS as a framework for understanding fluctuations in dyadic sexual desire in long-term relationships, and conclude by discussing implications of DIADICS for research and clinical practice.
... Self-esteem has been defined as the individual's global self-evaluation in terms of (absence of) affective self-acceptance [22]. For non-PH individuals in long-term relationships higher levels of self-esteem were associated with maintaining higher sexual desire [23]. Higher self-esteem levels were also associated with higher sexual desire in men suffering from erectile dysfunction [24] and with higher sexual desire in cancer survivors [25]. ...
... Most previous studies into associations between shame, self-esteem and sexual desire have been cross-sectional [12,23,27]. However, cross-sectional designs are not capable of capturing within-person fluctuations. ...
Article
Full-text available
In the present study, we explore the proposed cyclic models for problematic hypersexuality (PH) that involve shame, self-esteem, and sexual desire. These cyclic models are characterized by temporal associations but have not been investigated previously with intensive longitudinal designs. In this study, we collected up to 70 measurements per participant within a period of seven consecutive days, which allowed us to investigate associations between fluctuations of shame, self-esteem, and sexual desire. Participants were divided in four subgroups: (1) women (n = 87); (2) men (n = 46) from a general population convenience sample; (3) men watching porn >2 times per week, showing non-problematic hypersexuality (NH; n = 10); and (4) men watching porn >2 times per week, experiencing PH (n = 11). Multilevel analyses, including cross-level interactions, were used to investigate between-group differences in intraindividual processes. Results showed that prior increases in shame forecasted higher current sexual desire for men with PH, but not for the other groups, suggesting that men with PH use sexual desire to downregulate dysphoric feelings of shame. Differences between groups in associations between self-esteem and sexual desire were also found. Based on our results, we propose the Split Pleasure/Shame model, which represents emotion dysregulation in PH, and juxta