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Maintaining Sexual Desire in Intimate Relationships: The Importance of Approach Goals

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Three studies tested whether adopting strong (relative to weak) approach goals in relationships (i.e., goals focused on the pursuit of positive experiences in one's relationship such as fun, growth, and development) predict greater sexual desire. Study 1 was a 6-month longitudinal study with biweekly assessments of sexual desire. Studies 2 and 3 were 2-week daily experience studies with daily assessments of sexual desire. Results showed that approach relationship goals buffered against declines in sexual desire over time and predicted elevated sexual desire during daily sexual interactions. Approach sexual goals mediated the association between approach relationship goals and daily sexual desire. Individuals with strong approach goals experienced even greater desire on days with positive relationship events and experienced less of a decrease in desire on days with negative relationships events than individuals who were low in approach goals. In two of the three studies, the association between approach relationship goals and sexual desire was stronger for women than for men. Implications of these findings for maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships are discussed.
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INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS AND GROUP PROCESSES
Maintaining Sexual Desire in Intimate Relationships: The Importance of
Approach Goals
Emily A. Impett
University of California, Berkeley
Amy Strachman
University of Southern California
Eli J. Finkel
Northwestern University
Shelly L. Gable
University of California, Santa Barbara
Three studies tested whether adopting strong (relative to weak) approach goals in relationships (i.e., goals focused
on the pursuit of positive experiences in one’s relationship such as fun, growth, and development) predict greater
sexual desire. Study 1 was a 6-month longitudinal study with biweekly assessments of sexual desire. Studies 2 and
3 were 2-week daily experience studies with daily assessments of sexual desire. Results showed that approach
relationship goals buffered against declines in sexual desire over time and predicted elevated sexual desire during
daily sexual interactions. Approach sexual goals mediated the association between approach relationship goals and
daily sexual desire. Individuals with strong approach goals experienced even greater desire on days with positive
relationship events and experienced less of a decrease in desire on days with negative relationships events than
individuals who were low in approach goals. In two of the three studies, the association between approach
relationship goals and sexual desire was stronger for women than for men. Implications of these findings for
maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships are discussed.
Keywords: sexual desire, motivation, close relationships, gender differences, daily experience methods
I know nothing about sex, because I was always married.—Zsa Zsa Gabor
With this statement, Zsa Zsa highlights a common belief about the
decline of sexual interest and activity in long-term relationships. Lack of
sexual desire is the most common presenting problem at sex therapy
clinics (e.g., Beck, 1995; Hawton, Catalan & Fagg, 1991). In the Amer-
ican survey conducted by Laumann and his colleagues, a lack of sexual
desire was reported by 32% of women and 15% of men between the ages
of 18 and 29 years (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994).
Recent books by sex therapists and clinicians with such titles as Rekin-
dling Desire: A Step-by-Step Program to Help Low-Sex and No-Sex
Marriages (McCarthy & McCarthy, 2003) and Reclaiming Desire: Four
Keys to Finding Your Lost Libido (Goldstein & Brandon, 2004) target
couples who seek to rekindle sexual intimacy and passion in their rela-
tionships. In this article, we introduce and test approach relationship
goals (i.e., goals focused on the pursuit of positive experiences in one’s
relationship such as fun, growth, and development) as a factor that may
help couples to maintain sexual desire over the course of their relation-
ships.
Sexual Desire and Relationship Quality
Although there is no widely accepted definition of sexual desire among
researchers and theorists (Levine, 2003), central to many definitions is the
need, drive, or motivation to engage in sexual activities (Brezsnyak &
Whisman, 2004; Clayton et al., 2006; Diamond, 2004).
1
Several large-
scale surveys have shown that sexual desire as well as the related con-
structs of sexual satisfaction and sexual frequency decline with the length
of time that partners have been in a relationship (e.g., Johnson, Wads-
worth, Wellings, & Field, 1994; Klusmann, 2002). One large survey of
German college students revealed that as duration of partnership in-
creased, the frequency of sexual intercourse and sexual satisfaction de-
clined in both women and men. Further, whereas men’s sexual desire
remained relatively stable over the course of a relationship, women’s
sexual desire dropped steadily after about 1 year of dating (Klusmann,
1
Although we were centrally concerned with the motivational component of
sexuality (i.e., sexual desire), there is substantial overlap between sexual desire and
the related constructs of sexual arousal and enjoyment. The traditional “human sex
response cycle” of Masters and Johnson (1966) and Kaplan (1979) depicts sexual
desire as a spontaneous force that itself triggers sexual arousal. In more recent
years, however, therapists and researchers have begun to challenge this model,
particularly Basson and colleagues (Basson et al., 2004) who have suggested that
sexual arousal, desire, and enjoyment co-occur and can reinforce each other. Many
people report that their sexual desire increases during sexual intercourse; that is, as
they begin to be aroused and enjoy the sexual experience, they recognize that their
sexual desire increases, and they become motivated to become even more aroused
(Levine, 2002). For these reasons, in some of the studies in the current article, we
assessed sexual arousal and enjoyment in addition to sexual desire in order to more
fully capture the interrelated components of sexual desire.
Emily A. Impett, Institute of Personality and Social Research, University of
California, Berkeley; Amy Strachman, Institute for Health Promotion & Disease
Prevention Research, University of Southern California, and eHarmony Labs,
Pasadena, California; Eli J. Finkel, Department of Psychology, Northwestern
University; Shelly L. Gable, Department of Psychology, University of California,
Santa Barbara.
Preparation of this article was supported by a fellowship awarded to Emily A.
Impett from the Sexuality Research Fellowship Program of the Social Science
Research Council and by a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award
to Amy Strachman. We thank Amie Gordon, Anne Peplau, and Deborah Schooler
for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Emily A. Impett,
Institute of Personality and Social Research, 4143 Tolman Hall, 5050, University
of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-5050. E-mail: eimpett@gmail.com
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2008, Vol. 94, No. 5, 808 823
Copyright 2008 by the American Psychological Association 0022-3514/08/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.94.5.808
808
2002). Another study documented that the association between relation-
ship duration and reduced frequency of intercourse was stronger than the
association between age and sexual frequency (Johnson et al., 1994). In
short, sexual desire typically peaks at the beginning of relationships when
partners are just getting to know each other and often decreases over the
course of relationships (Basson, 2002; Levine, 2003).
Because both sexual desire and sexual satisfaction play key
roles in determining the quality of intimate relationships, relation-
ship scholars and therapists should care about the decline of sexual
desire. Many studies of couples who voluntarily attend sex therapy
clinics provide support for the idea that low sexual desire is
associated with decreased levels of relationship satisfaction, both
for individuals with low desire and for their partners (e.g., Mc-
Cabe, 1997; Trudel, Landry, & Larose, 1997). More recent studies
have also documented similar associations between sexual desire
and relationship satisfaction in community samples of married
couples (Brezsnyak & Whisman, 2004) and dating couples
(Regan, 2000; Sprecher, 2002). Further, many empirical studies
have documented a significant positive association between sexual
satisfaction and dating and marital quality (Yeh, Lorenz, Wick-
rama, Conger, & Elder, 2006; see review by Sprecher & Cate,
2004). Sex therapists have similarly noted that when sexuality
functions well in a marriage, it contributes substantially to the
marital bond. However, dysfunctional or nonexistent sexuality
robs the marriage of intimacy, satisfaction, and stability (Mc-
Carthy, 1999).
While a wealth of research has shown that sexual desire con-
tributes to relationship quality and stability, less research has
investigated the factors that help promote and sustain sexual desire
in relationships. In this article, we suggest that the adoption of
approach relationship goals may help couples to maintain sexual
desire over the course of their relationships. We first introduce the
approach–avoidance theoretical perspective guiding this research
and apply this theory to the study of sexuality in intimate relation-
ships. We then present the results of three studies designed to test
our hypotheses concerning the link between approach relationship
goals and sexual desire. Finally, we discuss the implications of this
research for couples and sex therapists who wish to promote
healthy sexual functioning in long-term relationships.
Approach–Avoidance Motivational Framework
Several theories of motivational processes postulate the exis-
tence of distinct approach (also called appetitive) and avoidance
(also called aversive) motivational systems (see reviews in Carver,
Sutton, & Scheier, 2000; Elliot & Covington, 2001). For instance,
Gray’s (1987) neuropsychological model of motivation posits ap-
petitive and aversive motivational systems, referred to as the
behavioral approach system (BAS) and the behavioral inhibition
system (BIS; see also Carver & White, 1994). Specifically, the
BAS is an appetitive system that is primarily sensitive to positive
stimuli or signals of reward, whereas the BIS is an aversive system
that is primarily sensitive to negative stimuli or signals of punish-
ment. Gray (1990) has shown that the BAS is associated with
feelings of hope, whereas the BIS is associated with feelings of
anxiety. In a study of motivational dispositions and daily events,
Gable, Reis, and Elliot (2000) found that participants with higher
BAS sensitivity reported experiencing more daily positive affect
than those with lower BAS sensitivity, while participants with
higher BIS sensitivity reported experiencing more daily negative
affect than those with lower BIS sensitivity.
The approach–avoidance motivational distinction has been par-
ticularly helpful in understanding motivation in interpersonal re-
lationships. Basing their work on that of early social motivation
theorists (e.g., Boyatzis, 1973; Mehrabian, 1976), Gable and col-
leagues have recently distinguished between approach and avoid-
ance social goals (Elliot, Gable, & Mapes, 2006; Gable, 2006b).
Whereas approach social goals direct individuals toward potential
positive outcomes such as intimacy or growth in their relation-
ships, avoidance social goals direct individuals away from poten-
tial negative outcomes such as conflict or rejection. For example,
in a discussion about child care, a husband who has strong ap-
proach goals may be concerned with wanting the discussion to go
smoothly and wanting both partners to be happy with the outcome.
In contrast, a husband with strong avoidance goals may be more
concerned with avoiding conflict about child care and preventing
both partners from being unhappy with the outcome (Gable,
2006b). These goals are flexible forms of regulation that may take
on diverse manifestations; they may focus on a specific relation-
ship or relationships in general, they may focus on close relation-
ships or acquaintances, and they may focus on a variety of rela-
tional concerns such as sexuality, intimacy, and parenting
(Dowson & McInerney, 2003; Sorkin & Rook, 2004). In this
article, we are specifically concerned with individuals’ goals in
their romantic relationships (in Studies 1 and 2) and in their
interpersonal relationships more generally (in Study 3).
Just as BAS and BIS are associated with distinct emotional
outcomes, research has also shown that approach and avoidance
social goals predict different social outcomes (Gable, 2006b; Im-
pett, Gable, & Peplau, 2005). In three short-term longitudinal
studies, approach goals were associated with more positive social
attitudes, more satisfaction with social bonds, and less loneliness,
whereas avoidance goals were associated with more negative so-
cial attitudes, relationship insecurity, and more loneliness (Gable,
2006b). In a daily experience study of dating couples, on days
when individuals made sacrifices for approach motives, they ex-
perienced greater positive affect and relationship satisfaction; on
days when they sacrificed for avoidance motives, they experienced
greater negative affect, less relationship satisfaction, and more
conflict (Impett, Gable, & Peplau, 2005). In short, the approach
system (but not the avoidance system) is associated with positive
emotional and social outcomes.
Applying the Approach-Avoidance Motivational
Framework to Sexuality
Central to many definitions of sexual desire is the need or
motivation to engage in sexual activities or the pleasurable antic-
ipation of such activities in the future (Brezsnyak & Whisman,
2004; Clayton et al., 2006; Diamond, 2004). In short, sexual desire
involves the potential rewards and the positive emotional experi-
ence that are characteristic of the approach motivational system. In
addition to predicting positive affect and relationship satisfaction
(Gable, 2006b; Gable et al., 2000; Impett, Gable, & Peplau, 2005),
approach relationship goals may also be associated with daily
sexual desire and the maintenance of sexual desire over time. One
possible reason why approach relationship goals may promote
sexual desire concerns people’s motives or reasons for engaging in
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APPROACH GOALS AND SEXUAL DESIRE
sexual activity with a partner (Cooper, Shapiro, & Powers, 1998;
Impett, Peplau, & Gable, 2005). People who pursue positive ex-
periences, such as growth and development, in their relationships
may view sexual activity as one way to create positive, intimate
experiences with a partner. Therefore, compared with people with
weak approach relationship goals, those with strong approach
relationship goals may think more about sex, be more sensitive to
their partners’ cues, create environments that promote intimate
interaction, and act more readily upon potential sexual encounters.
Previous research has shown that approach motives and goals are
primarily linked to outcomes through an exposure process (Elliot
et al., 2006; Gable, 2006b; Gable et al., 2000). That is, individuals
with strong approach goals or motives tend to report experiencing
a greater number of positive events (but not fewer negative
events). Therefore, individuals with strong approach goals are
likely to experience a greater number of positive events and
positive emotions (including desire) with their partners. Because of
these previous findings, we believe that approach goals in close
relationships will be more strongly related to sexual desire than
will avoidance goals because approach goals are primarily asso-
ciated with positive events (likely through processes that lead to
increased exposure) and avoidance goals have not been linked
reliably to positive events.
It is also likely that people with strong approach goals for their
relationships in general may also engage in daily sexual activity
for approach reasons such as pleasing a partner or enhancing
intimacy in the relationship. Repeatedly engaging in sex for ap-
proach reasons, in turn, may promote greater sexual desire. A
recent cross-sectional study of late adolescent girls showed that
engaging in sex for approach goals (e.g., to express love, for
physical attraction) was positively associated with sexual satisfac-
tion (Impett & Tolman, 2006). Based on this research, we pre-
dicted that individuals with strong approach relationship goals
would report engaging in sexual activity for approach reasons, in
turn, promoting greater sexual desire.
Gender and Sexual Desire
Many lines of research demonstrate that men show more interest
in sex than do women (see review by Baumeister, Catanese &
Vohs, 2001). For example, men think about sex more often than
women do (Laumann et al., 1994), report more frequent sexual
fantasies (Beck, Bozman, & Qualtrough, 1991), and report greater
feelings of sexual desire (Leitenberg & Henning, 1995). Further,
men and women differ in their preferred frequency of sex; when
dating and marriage partners disagree about sexual frequency, men
usually want to have sex more often than women (Julien, Bou-
chard, Gagnon, & Pomerleau, 1992; Sprecher & Regan, 1996).
Complementing these descriptive gender differences is research
demonstrating that women’s sexual desire may be more closely
tied to the interpersonal aspects of the relationships than is men’s
desire (see review by Peplau, 2003). For instance, when Regan and
Berscheid (1999) asked young adults to define sexual desire, men
were more likely than women to emphasize physical pleasure and
sexual intercourse, whereas women were more likely than men to
emphasize the emotional or relational side of sexual desire.
Women are more likely than men to engage in sex to enhance
commitment and express love for their partners (Basson, 2002;
Impett, Peplau, & Gable, 2005). Taken together, these lines of
research suggest that women’s sexual desire may be more sensitive
than men’s to relationship dynamics, and in particular, to women’s
goals for the relationship. For this reason, a secondary goal of the
current research was to explore whether the association between
approach relationship goals and sexual desire is stronger for
women than for men.
Hypotheses and Research Overview
We conducted three studies of individuals in dating relation-
ships to test several predictions from approach–avoidance motiva-
tional theory about the maintenance of sexual desire in dating
relationships. Study 1 was a 6-month longitudinal study of indi-
viduals in dating relationships that included biweekly assessments
of sexual desire. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that the
adoption of approach relationship goals would buffer against de-
clines in sexual desire over time. Study 2 was a 2-week daily
experience study of individuals in dating relationships designed to
extend the findings from Study 1 by testing whether approach
sexual goals would mediate the link between approach relationship
goals and sexual desire. Study 3 was an additional 2-week daily
experience study that included (a) a more general measure of
social (as opposed to relationship-specific) approach goals, (b) a
more detailed measure of sexual goals that distinguished between
self-focused and other-focused goals, and (c) measures of positive
and negative relationship events. These last measures enabled us to
examine how perceptions of the daily relationship climate influ-
ence sexual desire and whether relationship events moderate the
association of approach goals with sexual desire. In all three
studies, we conducted additional analyses to examine the effects of
approach goals on sexual desire beyond the influence of how long
people have been involved in their relationships, how satisfied they
are with their partners, and how frequently they engage in sexual
activity. Finally, in all three studies, we examined gender as a
moderator of the link between approach goals and sexual desire,
exploring the possibility that the association may be stronger for
women than for men as women’s sexual desire may be particularly
sensitive to women’s goals for their relationships.
Study 1
We tested three main predictions in a 6-month longitudinal
study of college students in dating relationships: (a) Individuals
with strong approach goals would report higher sexual desire at
study entry than individuals with weak approach goals; (b) indi-
viduals who began the study with weak approach relationship
goals would experience decreases in sexual desire over the course
of the study, whereas individuals who began the study with strong
approach relationship goals would not experience such decreases;
and (c) avoidance relationship goals would not be significantly
associated with sexual desire. Finally, we explored gender as a
moderator of the association between approach relationship goals
and sexual desire.
Method
Participants and Procedure
Sixty-nine Northwestern University undergraduate students (34
men, 35 women) were recruited via flyers posted around campus
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IMPETT, STRACHMAN, FINKEL, AND GABLE
to participate in a 6-month longitudinal study of dating processes.
Eligibility criteria required that each participant be: (a) a first-year
undergraduate at Northwestern University, (b) involved in a dating
relationship of at least 2 months’ duration, (c) between 17 and 19
years old, (d) a native English speaker, and (e) the only member of
a given couple to participate in the study. Participants who com-
pleted all components of the study were paid $100; those who
missed some were paid a prorated amount. At the beginning of the
study, most participants were 18 years old (7% were 17, 81% were
18, and 12% were 19) and White (74% White, 12% Asian Amer-
ican, 3% Hispanic, 1% African American, and 10% other). On
average, participants had been dating their partner for a little over
1 year (M 13 months; range 2– 42 months). During the
6-month study, 26 participants (38%) broke up with their romantic
partner; they were included in the analyses until the breakup.
2
This study was part of a larger investigation of dating processes that
was divided into four parts: (a) an initial 60-min questionnaire sent via
campus mail, (b) a 90-min lab-based session involving additional
questionnaires and training for the online sessions, (c) a 10- to-15-min
online questionnaire every other week for 6 months (14 in total), and
(d) a 60-min lab-based session at the end of the 6-month period.
During the training for the online sessions, a researcher reviewed the
procedures for the completion of the biweekly surveys, specifically
emphasizing that participants should complete their surveys every
other Wednesday evening and that their responses were confidential
(i.e., they used a password to log onto the server). To bolster and
verify compliance, we sent participants reminder e-mails if they
forgot to complete a survey on time, and financial incentives were
linked to completing each survey. Only surveys received within 48 hr
of when they were due were retained in the data set. Participant
retention was excellent: All 69 participants completed the study, and
67 of them completed at least 12 of the 14 online measures on time.
Fourteen participants failed to complete the measure of approach and
avoidance relationship goals correctly, leaving the final sample at 55
participants.
3
Measures
Approach and avoidance relationship goals. As part of the
initial questionnaire, participants completed a 4-item measure as-
sessing approach relationship goals (e.g., “I will be trying to
deepen my relationship with my romantic partner” and “I will be
trying to move toward growth and development in my romantic
relationship”; ␣⫽.86) and another assessing avoidance relation-
ship goals (e.g., “I will be trying to avoid disagreements and
conflicts with my romantic partner” and “I will be trying to make
sure that nothing bad happens in my romantic relationship”; ␣⫽
.66; Gable, 2006a). All questions were answered on 7-point scales
(1 strongly disagree,7 strongly agree), and each scale was
calculated as an average score of the ratings on the 4 items. In the
current study, a two-factor-solution principal components analysis
with varimax rotation explained 60% of the scale variance. The
first factor (35% of explained variance) included the four approach
relationship goals items, and the second factor (25% of explained
variance) included the four avoidance goals items. The correlation
between the two subscales was .21, p .12.
Sexual desire. As part of the 14 biweekly online questionnaires,
participants answered questions about their sexual desire for and
participation in sexual activities with their dating partner. (These
activities were not limited to sexual intercourse.) Participants com-
pleted a two-item partner-specific measure of sexual desire, answer-
ing the questions “I feel a great deal of sexual desire for my partner”
and “When my partner and I have sexual contact, I enjoy it a great
deal” on 7-point scales (1 strongly disagree,7 strongly agree).
Within each of the 14 waves of online data collection, the correlations
between these two items were quite high (rs .69 –.98, ps .001,
with an average correlation across these waves of .91). We also
assessed frequency of sexual contact with one’s partner. Participants
answered the question “How many times did you have sexual contact
with your partner over the last 2 weeks?” by typing in a number rather
than answering on a response scale.
Relationship satisfaction. Participants answered one question
designed to measure relationship satisfaction as part of the 14
biweekly online questionnaires. Specifically, they responded to the
statement “I am satisfied with my relationship” on 7-point scales
(1 strongly disagree,7 strongly agree).
Results
Participants reported an average of 3.16 (SD 3.92) acts of
sexual contact with their partner per 2-week time period of the
study. The central hypotheses guiding this study were that ap-
proach relationship goals would predict elevated sexual desire at
study entry and buffer against declines in sexual desire over time.
The two-level data structure included measures assessed on each
of the online questionnaires (Level 1) nested within each partici-
pant (Level 2). For example, participants who completed all waves
of online data collection reported their level of sexual desire on 14
different occasions. Traditional ordinary least squares regression
methods assume independence of observations, a criterion that is
typically violated when the same individual completes the same
measures repeatedly. Therefore, we analyzed the data using mul-
tilevel modeling techniques (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002) with the
MIXED procedure in SAS (Littell, Milliken, Stroup, & Wolfinger,
1996). Multilevel modeling approaches provide unbiased hypoth-
esis tests by simultaneously examining variance associated with
each level of nesting. A strength of multilevel modeling techniques
is that they can readily handle an unbalanced number of cases per
person (i.e., number of surveys completed), giving greater weight-
ing to participants who provide more data (Snijders & Bosker,
1999). Following Singer and Willett (2003), we permitted the
intercept and slope terms for approach relationship goals to vary
randomly; the slope terms for the other predictors were treated as
fixed. Finally, all variables were standardized prior to analyses;
consequently the coefficients represented changes in standard de-
viation units of the dependent variable (i.e., sexual desire) associ-
ated with a standard deviation unit of the predictor variable. Thus,
the coefficients are a convenient measure of effect size.
2
Participant sexual orientation was not assessed in Studies 1 and 3.
3
These 14 participants responded to the approach relationship goals
questionnaire items with check marks rather than with the 1–7 rating scale,
which meant that we were not able to calculate a score for them. The 55
participants who completed the goals measure correctly did not differ
significantly from the 14 who did not on the initial measures of relationship
duration, relationship satisfaction, or sexual desire. This problem with the
goals measure was subsequently rectified in Studies 2 and 3.
811
APPROACH GOALS AND SEXUAL DESIRE
Before testing our specific hypotheses concerning approach and
avoidance relationship goals and sexual desire, we conducted a pre-
liminary analysis to determine if, on average, participants experienced
a decline in sexual desire over the course of the study. This analysis
included time as a predictor of the intercept and the slope of sexual
desire. In this and all subsequent analyses, time was coded such that
the first wave of data collection was 0 and the final wave was 13. A
significant effect of time on sexual desire, ␤⫽⫺.02, t(66) ⫽⫺2.52,
p .02, showed that sexual desire decreased significantly over time
at a rate of .02 standard deviation units every 2 weeks; this rate of
biweekly decline would lead to an annual decline in sexual desire of
approximately half a standard deviation (.52 standard deviation units,
to be precise). This decline over time in sexual desire mirrors a similar
decline in desire in samples of married couples (e.g., Johnson et al.,
1994; Klusmann, 2002).
Next, we tested the hypothesis that approach relationship goals
would moderate the intercept and slope of sexual desire. We predicted
that participants with strong approach goals would begin the study
higher in sexual desire and would not experience the decline in sexual
desire that characterized the sample as a whole. To test this hypoth-
esis, we simultaneously entered time, approach goals, and avoidance
goals to predict both the intercept and the slope of sexual desire. The
results showed that approach goals predicted the intercept of sexual
desire, ␤⫽.35, t(625) 3.17, p .01, providing support for the
hypothesis that participants with strong approach goals would report
greater sexual desire at study entry relative to those with weak
approach goals. Approach goals also (marginally) moderated the
effect of time on sexual desire, ␤⫽.014, t(625) 1.87, p .06. The
results showed that whereas participants with low approach relation-
ship goals experienced declines in sexual desire over the course of the
study, participants with strong approach goals retained relatively high
levels of sexual desire over the course of the study. Figure 1 depicts
both of these effects. Consistent with our hypotheses, avoidance goals
predicted neither the intercept, ␤⫽⫺.17, p .13, nor the slope, ␤⫽
.01, p .42, of sexual desire. We then conducted two sets of
follow-up analyses. In the first analysis, we controlled for relationship
satisfaction and duration (both the intercept and slope terms), and
approach relationship goals remained significant predictors of both
the intercept, ␤⫽.28, t(470) 2.64, p .01, and slope of sexual
desire, ␤⫽.015, t(470) 2.16, p .05. In the second analysis, we
controlled for the frequency with which participants engaged in sex-
ual intercourse across the 14-day study, and approach relationship
goals remained significant predictors of both the intercept, ␤⫽.34,
t(469) 3.03, p .01, and slope of sexual desire, ␤⫽.02, t(469)
2.34, p .01, pointing to the robust nature of these findings.
4,5
The final goal of this study was to explore whether the
association between approach relationship goals and sexual
desire is stronger for women than for men. To examine this
possibility, we included six additional terms involving gender
(coded as 1 men and 1 women) to the primary analysis
described above. Specifically, we examined whether gender
moderated the intercept and slope effects for sexual desire and
whether gender moderated any of the associations of approach
or avoidance relationship goals with the intercept and slope of
sexual desire. This analysis revealed a significant gender effect
on the sexual desire intercept, ␤⫽.18, t(591) 2.04, p .04,
indicating that men reported greater sexual desire than did
women at the beginning of the study. There was no significant
4
We conducted additional analyses in which we analyzed both of the
individual-item dependent measures of sexual desire separately (i.e., sexual
desire and enjoyment). When we included both approach and avoidance goals
in an equation simultaneously, approach goals significantly predicted the
intercepts of both sexual desire, ␤⫽.33, t(469) 3.05, p .01, and
enjoyment, ␤⫽.24, t(467 2.17), p .05; further, approach goals margin-
ally predicted the slope of sexual desire, ␤⫽.013, t(469) 1.77, p .077,
and significantly predicted the slope of sexual enjoyment, ␤⫽.02, t(467)
2.96, p .003, when both the intercept and the slope of relationship satisfac-
tion and duration were controlled. There were no significant associations
between avoidance relationship goals and either of the individual item-
dependent measures of sexual desire.
5
In all of the studies reported in this article, we tested for interactions
between approach and avoidance goals, and none of these effects was
significant. Furthermore, once the interaction terms were added, the effects
for the intercept and the slope of approach goals (in Study 1) and the effects
for approach goals in Studies 2 and 3 remained significant.
Figure 1. Approach relationship goals as a moderator of the intercept and slope of sexual desire (Study 1).
Note: The means were estimated with 1 standard deviation on approach goals.
812
IMPETT, STRACHMAN, FINKEL, AND GABLE
gender effect on the sexual desire slope, however, ␤⬍.01,
t(591) 0.67, p .51. Gender also moderated the effect of
approach goals on the intercept of sexual desire, ␤⫽⫺.33,
t(591) 3.63, p .001, suggesting that the association be-
tween approach goals and sexual desire at study entry was
stronger for women than for men. Finally, gender did not
significantly moderate the effect of approach goals on the
slope of sexual desire, ␤⫽⫺.012, t(591) ⫽⫺1.43, p .15.
This result suggests that men and women with weak ap-
proach goals did not significantly differ in the tendency to
experience decreased sexual desire over time, although this
nonsignificant effect trended in the direction of approach goals
more positively predicting the slope of sexual desire for women
than for men.
Brief Discussion
Study 1 provided evidence for the two hypotheses linking
approach relationship goals and sexual desire. Not only did
approach relationship goals predict greater sexual desire at
study entry, but having strong approach relationship goals buff-
ered against declines in sexual desire over a 6-month period.
Avoidance goals were not significantly associated with sexual
desire at the beginning of the study or trajectories of sexual
desire over time. Finally, the association between approach
relationship goals and sexual desire at the beginning of the
study was stronger for women than for men, pointing to the
particular importance of goals focused on obtaining positive
outcomes in romantic relationships for enhancing women’s
sexual desire. Why do approach relationship goals buffer
against declines in sexual desire over time? Study 2 tested the
hypothesis that approach relationship goals promote increased
sexual desire during daily sexual interactions, given that people
who typically pursue approach goals in their relationships may
also be highly motivated to pursue shorter term approach goals,
such as enhancing intimacy and closeness, during their sexual
interactions with a partner (Gable, 2006b). In addition, Study 2
tested approach sexual goals as a possible mediator of the
association between approach relationship goals and sexual
desire.
Study 2
We tested three main predictions in a 2-week daily experi-
ence study of college students in dating relationships: (a) Ap-
proach relationship goals would be associated with increased
sexual desire in day-to-day sexual interactions, (b) approach
sexual goals would mediate the association between ap-
proach relationship goals and sexual desire; and (c) avoidance
relationship goals would not be significantly associated with
daily sexual desire. In addition, as in Study 1, we examined
gender as a possible moderator of the association between
approach relationship goals and sexual desire, exploring the
possibility that the association would be stronger for women
than for men.
Method
Participants and Procedure
The study was advertised as an examination of dating rela-
tionships, and participants received credit toward psychology
coursework at the University of California, Los Angeles, in
exchange for participation. To be eligible, participants had to:
(a) be currently involved in a dating (not a marital) relationship,
(b) see their partner at least 5 days per week (i.e., no long-
distance relationships), and (c) be the only member of a given
couple to participate in the study. Of the 121 participants (55
men, 66 women) who completed the study, 2 were engaged to
be married, and 18 were cohabitating; the mean relationship
length for all participants was 18 months (range 1 month– 8
years). Participants ranged in age from 18 to 38 years (M
20.2, SD 2.6). The sample was ethnically diverse: 5% were
African American, 36% were Asian or Pacific Islander, 15%
were Hispanic, 37% were White, and 7% self-identified as
multi-ethnic or other. In addition, all participants identified as
heterosexual except one gay man, and he was included in the
study.
During an initial session, each participant was given 14
surveys, each containing the daily measures, one for each night
of the week. A researcher then reviewed the procedures for
completion of the daily surveys, specifically emphasizing that
participants should begin completing their surveys that evening,
that they should complete one survey each night before going to
bed (even if they did not engage in sex on that particular day),
that their responses were confidential, that they should not
discuss their surveys with their partner, and that if they missed
a day, they should leave that particular survey blank. To bolster
and verify compliance with the daily schedule, we asked par-
ticipants to return completed surveys every 2–3 days to a locked
mailbox located outside the laboratory. As an incentive, each
time participants handed in a set of surveys on time, they
received a lottery ticket for one of several cash prizes ($100,
$50, $25) to be awarded after the study. Participants who did
not return a particular set of surveys on time were reminded by
phone or e-mail. Only daily surveys returned on time were
treated as valid and retained in the data set. In total, participants
completed 1,549 daily surveys on time, an average of 12.8 days
per person. Ninety percent of the participants completed all 14
daily reports on time.
Background Measures
In their initial session in the laboratory, participants com-
pleted a questionnaire with basic demographic information
(i.e., gender, age, ethnicity, relationship duration), as well as
the same measure of approach and avoidance relationship
goals used in Study 1 (Gable, 2006a). They were instructed to
answer the questions about their goals for their relationships
over the next few months. In the present study, ␣⫽.78 for
approach social goals and ␣⫽.79 for avoidance social goals.
The correlation between the two subscales was .57, p .001.
In addition, participants completed a standard 5-item measure
813
APPROACH GOALS AND SEXUAL DESIRE
of relationship satisfaction (Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew,
1998). Participants responded to such statements as “Our
relationship makes me happy” on 9-point scales (0 do not
agree at all,8 agree completely). In this sample, ␣⫽.89.
Daily Measures
If participants had engaged in sexual intercourse since they had
completed the previous day’s survey, they completed measures of
sexual desire and sexual goals.
6
Sexual desire. Each time that they engaged in sexual inter-
course, participants answered two questions designed to measure
their sexual desire on 7-point scales (1 very low,7 very high).
More specifically, they responded to the following two items:
“Rate your own level of sexual desire just prior to engaging in
sex,” and “Rate your own level of sexual desire during sex.” A
composite sexual desire variable was created by averaging the
responses to these two questions (␣⫽.64).
Sexual goals. Each time they engaged in sexual intercourse,
participants responded to a nine-item measure of sexual goals
adapted from Cooper et al. (1998) and used by Impett, Peplau,
& Gable (2005). Participants rated the importance of five ap-
proach and four avoidance goals in influencing their decision to
engage in sex on 7-point scales (1 not at all important,7
extremely important). The approach items were “to pursue
my own sexual pleasure,” “to feel good about myself,” “to
please my partner,” “to promote intimacy in my relationship,”
and “to express love for my partner.” The avoidance items were
“to avoid conflict in my relationship,” “to prevent my partner
from becoming upset,” “to prevent my partner from getting
angry at me,” and “to prevent my partner from losing interest in
me.” The within-person correlation between approach and
avoidance sexual goals was .03, p .49. The reliability coef-
ficients were .71 for approach goals and .90 for avoidance
goals.
Results
Participants reported a total of 480 sexual interactions. On
average, participants reported engaging in sexual intercourse on
4 days during the 2-week study (SD 2.3; range 1–10
days). A central goal of this study was to test predictions
about the associations between approach and avoidance rela-
tionship goals and sexual desire. To address the data noninde-
pendence, analyses were performed using multilevel modeling
techniques in the hierarchical linear models (HLM) com-
puter program (HLMwin, Version 5.02; Raudenbush, Bryk,
Cheong, & Congdon, 2000). Level-1 (i.e., daily) predictors
were centered around each individual’s mean across the 14-day
study. This technique, known as group-mean centering, ac-
counts for differences between-persons in the sample and as-
sesses whether day-to-day changes from a participant’s own
mean are associated with changes in the outcome variable,
consequently unconfounding between- and within-person ef-
fects. As in Study 1, all variables were standardized prior to
analyses.
Relationship Goals and Daily Sexual Desire
The first major hypothesis guiding this study was that ap-
proach relationship goals would predict increased daily sexual
desire. To test this hypothesis, we entered approach and avoid-
ance relationship goals as simultaneous predictors of daily
sexual desire. The results showed that approach relationship
goals were positively associated with sexual desire, ␤⫽.20,
t(117) 2.84, p .01. In contrast, avoidance goals were not
significantly associated with sexual desire, ␤⫽⫺.07, p .31.
7
As in Study 1, we then conducted two sets of follow-up anal-
yses. In the first analysis, we controlled for relationship satis-
faction and duration, and the association between approach
relationship goals and sexual desire remained significant, ␤⫽
.17, t(115) 2.23, p .05. In the second analysis, we con-
trolled for the frequency with which participants engaged in
sexual intercourse across the 14-day study, and the association
between approach goals and desire also remained significant,
␤⫽.20, t(116) 2.79, p .01, pointing to the robust nature
of these findings.
We also explored gender as a moderator of the association
between approach relationship goals and sexual desire. Similar
to the way we conducted analyses in Study 1, we simulta-
neously entered approach relationship goals, avoidance rela-
tionship goals, gender, and two interaction terms (Approach
Relationship Goals Gender; Avoidance Relationship Goals
Gender) to predict daily sexual desire. Although there was no
main effect of gender, ␤⫽⫺.06, p .28, the interaction
between gender and approach relationship goals significantly
predicted sexual desire, ␤⫽.21, t(114) 2.08, p .05. As
shown in Figure 2, the association between approach relation-
ship goals and sexual desire was stronger for women than for
6
Although people certainly experience sexual desire in the absence
of having sexual contact with their partner, we focused only on days on
which participants reported engaging in sexual contact with the partner
for several reasons. First, we focused on desire just before a concrete
event (e.g., sexual activity) to improve recall and lessen retrospective
biases (Reis & Gable, 2000). Second, because there are multiple reasons
that partners may not have engaged in sexual activities, some benign or
related to circumstance (e.g., schedule, proximity of partner) and some
related to self or partner desire (e.g., rebuffed sexual advances), it
would be extremely difficult to compare event days to nonevent days.
Finally, we wanted to examine goals for each sexual event to capture
the full range of goals that participants experienced across days, and we
suspected that asking participants to report sexual goals in the absence
of sexual activity would have been difficult and would have produced
unreliable data.
7
We conducted analyses in which we analyzed both of the
individual-item dependent measures of sexual desire separately (i.e.,
sexual desire just prior to engaging in sex and sexual desire during sex).
When we included both approach and avoidance goals in an equation
simultaneously, approach relationship goals significantly predicted sex-
ual desire just prior to engaging in sex, ␤⫽.20, t(117) 3.23, p .01,
and marginally predicted sexual desire during sex, ␤⫽.14, t(117)
1.69, p .10. There were no significant associations between avoid-
ance relationship goals and either of the individual item-dependent
measures of sexual desire.
814
IMPETT, STRACHMAN, FINKEL, AND GABLE
men.
8
Neither avoidance relationship goals, ␤⫽⫺.04, p .68,
nor the interaction between gender and avoidance goals, ␤⫽
.06, p .56, significantly predicted daily sexual desire.
Approach Sexual Goals as a Mediator
Another hypothesis was that approach sexual goals would me-
diate the association between approach relationship goals and
sexual desire (see Figure 3). Standard (ordinary least squares
[OLS]) hierarchical regression analysis based on the principles of
Baron and Kenny (1986) was used to test mediation. Data were
aggregated across days such that each person received summary
scores for approach sexual goals and sexual desire. The first
requirement in demonstrating mediation is that the predictor vari-
able be associated with the outcome variable. Indeed, approach
relationship goals were significantly associated with sexual desire
(r .24, p .01). The second requirement is to show that
approach relationship goals predict the putative mediator, ap-
proach sexual goals; indeed they did (r .45, p .001). The third
requirement is that the mediator predicts the outcome variable (i.e.,
sexual desire) after the predictor variable is controlled and that this
effect could plausibly account for the direct effects between the
predictor and the outcome variable. Approach sexual goals signif-
icantly predicted sexual desire, ␤⫽.33, p .01, and the direct
effect from approach relationship goals to sexual desire dropped to
nonsignificance, ␤⫽.09, p .36). A significant Sobel (1982) test
indicated that the drop in the value of the latter beta was significant
(z 2.90, p .01), providing evidence for mediation. In other
words, participants with strong approach relationship goals also
tended to engage in sexual activity to pursue positive outcomes, in
turn promoting greater daily sexual desire.
Brief Discussion
Study 2 replicated and extended the findings from Study 1 in
several important ways. First, the results showed that approach
relationship goals promoted greater sexual desire during day-to-
day sexual interactions. Second, Study 2 demonstrated that ap-
proach sexual goals may be an important mechanism by which
approach relationship goals promote sexual desire. That is, indi-
viduals who are generally oriented toward promoting positive
experiences in their relationships also engage in sex to pursue
positive outcomes such as a partner’s happiness or increased
intimacy. Approach sexual goals were, in turn, associated with
sexual desire. Third, this study showed that the association be-
tween approach relationship goals and sexual desire was stronger
for women than for men, providing further evidence that women’s
sexual desire is more closely tied to relationship dynamics than is
men’s sexual desire. Fourth, this study showed that avoidance
goals were not significantly associated with daily sexual desire.
Study 3
Study 3 was another daily experience study of college students
in dating relationships, but Study 3 differed from Study 2 in three
8
In addition to testing for interactions with participant gender, we also
tested for interactions with ethnicity by creating two dummy-coded vari-
ables: 1 White versus not White, and 2 Asian versus not Asian. When
each of these dummy-coded variables was (separately) added as a covari-
ate, approach relationship goals remained a significant predictor of daily
sexual desire. More important, we also created interaction terms between
approach goals and both of the dummy-coded variables. Neither of these
interaction terms was associated with daily sexual desire. We also tested
for interactions with ethnicity in Study 3 using the same strategy; none of
the interactions was significant.
Figure 2. Gender as a moderator of the association between approach relationship goals and sexual desire
(Study 2).
Figure 3. Approach sexual goals as a mediator between approach rela-
tionship goals and sexual desire (Study 2). Note: All numbers are ordinary
least squares regression coefficients.
*
p .05.
**
p .01.
***
p .001.
815
APPROACH GOALS AND SEXUAL DESIRE
important ways. First, the approach relationship goals measure was
replaced with a more general measure of approach social goals,
allowing us to determine whether the effects were specific to a
measure of romantic relationships. Second, Study 3 included a
longer, more refined measure of sexual goals that enabled us to
determine the relative contributions of both self-focused sexual
goals (e.g., “to pursue my own sexual pleasure”) and other-focused
sexual goals (e.g., “to please my partner”) to daily sexual desire.
Third, Study 3 also included measures of positive and negative
relationship events to enable us to examine how people’s percep-
tions of the daily relationship climate relate to their levels of sexual
desire. Each day poses an opportunity for positive events (e.g.,
partners compliment each other, express their love, or do fun
things together) as well as negative events (e.g., they criticize,
disagree, or give each other the silent treatment). On the basis of
previous research showing a link between relationship satisfaction
and increased sexual desire (e.g., Brezsnyak & Whisman, 2004;
Sprecher, 2002), we predicted that individuals would experience
greater sexual desire on days with more frequent positive events
and also on days with less frequent negative events in their
relationships. We also predicted that approach social goals would
moderate these associations, such that people with strong approach
goals would experience even greater sexual desire on days with
many positive events because the approach system is sensitive to
the presence and absence of positive goal-relevant events (Gable et
al., 2000). This prediction is also consistent with work on the
upward spiral effect of positive emotions (Fredrickson & Joiner,
2002) and on the role of positive-arousing activities in relationship
satisfaction and passionate love (Aron, Norman, Aron, McKenna,
& Heyman, 2000). Finally, as in Studies 1 and 2, we explored
gender as a moderator of the association between approach social
goals and sexual desire.
Method
Participants and Procedure
The study was advertised as an examination of “relationships,
sexuality, and health,” and participants received credit toward
psychology coursework at the University of California, Los An-
geles, in exchange for participation. Participants were told that the
study was about daily events in relationships, including sexual
interactions. To be eligible, participants had to be: (a) currently
involved in a dating relationship, (b) sexually active with their
partner, (c) see their partner at least 5 days per week (i.e., no
long-distance relationships), and (d) the only member of a given
couple to participate in the study. Ninety participants (60 women,
29 men, 1 did not report gender) completed the study. Twelve of
the participants did not engage in sexual intercourse during the
study; therefore, the final sample consisted of the remaining 77
participants (55 women, 22 men). Two of the participants were
married, and 8 were cohabitating; the mean relationship length for
all participants was 21 months. Participants ranged in age from 17
to 44 years (M 20.3, SD 3.6).
9
The sample was ethnically
diverse: 4% were African American, 32% were Asian or Pacific
Islander, 35% were White, 26% identified as multi-ethnic or other,
and 3% did not report their ethnicity.
During an initial session, participants were given instructions
about how to complete an online survey by logging onto a secure
server each day. The daily survey was posted on a Web site, and
participants were given a login name and password to use each
time they entered the site. Participants were asked to complete the
survey at the beginning of each day for 14 consecutive days. The
survey asked about the previous day’s relationship and sexual
activities. Participants were instructed to complete the survey by
1 p.m. each day. The date and time of survey completion were
automatically recorded by the Web site, and research assistants
checked this log each morning and e-mailed reminders to partic-
ipants who had not yet completed their daily surveys. Only surveys
completed on time were accepted and included in the data analy-
ses. As an incentive for on-time completion of surveys, partici-
pants who completed between 11 and 14 diaries (N 71) were
entered into a lottery drawing for $100. Participants completed a
total of 1,182 daily surveys on time, an average of 13 days per
person. Ninety percent of participants completed all their surveys
on time.
Background Measures
In their initial session in the laboratory, participants completed
a questionnaire with basic demographic information (i.e., gender,
age, ethnicity, relationship duration), as well as a measure of
approach and avoidance social goals (Elliot et al., 2006). Partici-
pants responded to four approach statements (e.g., “I will be trying
to move toward growth and development in my friendships,” and
“I will be trying to deepen my relationship with my friends”) and
four avoidance statements (e.g., “I will be trying to make sure
nothing bad happens to my close relationships,” and “I will be
trying to avoid getting embarrassed, betrayed, or hurt by any of my
friends”) on 7-point scales (1 not at all true of me,7 very true
of me). They were instructed to answer the questions about their
goals for their relationships over the next few months. In the
present study, ␣⫽.78 for approach social goals and ␣⫽.79 for
avoidance social goals. The correlation between the two subscales
was .36, p .05. Relationship satisfaction was also assessed using
the same measure as in Study 2 (Rusbult et al., 1998; ␣⫽.94).
Daily Measures
If participants had engaged in sexual intercourse since they had
completed their previous day’s survey, they completed measures
of sexual desire and sexual goals.
Sexual desire. Each time that they engaged in sexual inter-
course, participants answered three questions designed to measure
their sexual desire on 5-point scales (1 not at all,5 very
much). The questions were: “How much did you want to have
sex?” “How much did you enjoy the sexual experience?” and
“How sexually aroused were you during this sexual experience?”
A composite variable called sexual desire was created by averag-
ing the responses to these three questions (␣⫽.95).
Sexual goals. Cooper et al.’s (1998) sexual motivation scale
was used to measure approach and avoidance sexual goals. The
scale consists of 29 items and was modified to assess the partici-
pants’ most recent sexual experience. This measure categorizes
9
The 44 year-old participant was an outlier in terms of age. All analyses
yielded identical conclusions when this person was excluded.
816
IMPETT, STRACHMAN, FINKEL, AND GABLE
sexual goals using the approach/avoidance distinction as well as a
self-focused/other-focused distinction. These two dimensions are
crossed to yield four categories of goals (six discrete goals) for
engaging in sex: (a) approach self-focused goals (e.g., “I have sex
because it feels good” [Enhancement]), (b) approach other-focused
goals (e.g., “I have sex to feel emotionally close to my partner”
[Intimacy]), (c) avoidance self-focused goals (e.g., “I have sex to
reassure myself that I am attractive” [Self-Affirmation], and “I
have sex to help me deal with disappointments in my life” [Cop-
ing]), and (d) avoidance other-focused goals, “I have sex because
I don’t want my partner to be angry with me” [Partner Approval]),
and “I have sex just because all of my friends are having sex” [Peer
Approval]). The reliability coefficients for Enhancement, Inti-
macy, Self-Affirmation, Coping, Partner Approval, and Peer Ap-
proval were .90, .93, .84, .91, .84, and .78, respectively.
Positive and negative relationship events. Participants com-
pleted measures of positive and negative events adapted from
previous research (Gable, Reis, & Downey, 2003). Each day,
participants indicated whether they experienced each of nine pos-
itive relationship events and nine negative relationship events.
Positive event items included: “My partner told me that he/she
loves me,” ‘My partner and I participated in an activity that I really
enjoy,” “During a discussion, I felt understood and appreciated by
my partner,” “My partner did something that made me feel
wanted,” “My partner and I did something fun,” “My partner did
something special for me,” “My partner complimented me,” “My
partner made me laugh,” and “My partner and I talked about
making our relationship more serious or committed.” Negative
event items included: “My partner and I had a minor disagree-
ment,” “My partner was inattentive and unresponsive to me,” “My
partner tried to control what I did,” “We had a major disagree-
ment,” “My partner’s behavior made me question his or her
commitment to me,” “My partner criticized me,” “My partner went
out with his/her friends instead of spending time with me,” “My
partner did something that made me feel irritated or angry,” and
“My partner gave me the silent treatment.” Responses to these
questions were summed to create separate indices of the total
number of positive events and the total number of negative events
that participants experienced in their relationships each day.
Results
Participants reported a total of 283 sexual interactions. On
average, participants reported engaging in sexual intercourse on
3.4 days during the 2-week study (SD 2.0; range 1–14 days).
As in Study 2, the data set was hierarchically nested, with days
nested within persons. Multilevel modeling in the HLM computer
program (HLMwin, Version. 5.02; Raudenbush et al., 2000) was
used to examine the hypotheses linking social goals, sexual goals,
relationship events, and sexual desire. Level-1 (i.e., daily) predic-
tors were centered around each individual’s mean across the 14-
day study, enabling us to determine whether day-to-day changes
from a participant’s own mean were associated with changes in the
outcome variable. As in Studies 1 and 2, all variables were stan-
dardized prior to analyses.
Social Goals and Daily Sexual Desire
As in Studies 1 and 2, we predicted that approach social goals
would predict increased daily sexual desire. To test this hypothe-
sis, we entered approach and avoidance social goals as simulta-
neous predictors of daily sexual desire. The results showed that
approach social goals were positively associated with sexual de-
sire, ␤⫽.19, t(69) 2.50, p .05. In contrast, avoidance goals
were not associated with sexual desire, ␤⫽⫺.01, t(69) .71, p
.84.
10
As in Studies 1 and 2, we then conducted two sets of
follow-up analyses. In the first analysis, we controlled for rela-
tionship satisfaction and duration, and the association between
approach relationship goals and sexual desire remained significant,
␤⫽.17, t(67) 2.08, p .05. In the second analysis, we
controlled for the frequency with which participants engaged in
sexual intercourse across the 14-day study, and the association
between approach goals and desire also remained significant, ␤⫽
.19, t(67) 2.22, p .05, pointing to the robust nature of these
findings.
As in Studies 1 and 2, we explored gender as a moderator of the
association between approach social goals and sexual desire. As in
Studies 2 and 3, approach social goals, avoidance social goals,
gender, and two interaction terms (Approach Goals Gender;
Avoidance Goals Gender) were used to predict sexual desire.
Neither interaction term reached significance (Approach Gen-
der: ␤⫽⫺.05, p .76; Avoidance Gender: ␤⫽.14, p .65).
This result suggests that the gender effects found in Studies 1 and
2 may be specific to approach goals in romantic relationships, not
in social relationships in general.
Sexual Goals and Daily Sexual Desire
The second major goal of this study was to determine which
specific sexual goals were associated with daily sexual desire.
Although we were primarily interested in the distinction between
self-focused and other-focused approach sexual goals, we also
examined the four different measures of avoidance sexual goals.
Therefore, we simultaneously entered all six types of sexual goals
(Enhancement, Intimacy, Self-Affirmation, Coping, Partner Ap-
proval, and Peer Approval) as well as the control variables (rela-
tionship duration, relationship satisfaction, and sexual frequency)
to predict daily sexual desire. Table 1 displays the results of this
analysis. When all six sexual goals were entered simultaneously,
both of the measures of approach sexual goals (i.e., Enhancement
and Intimacy) significantly predicted daily sexual desire. On days
when participants engaged in sexual intercourse more often to
pursue positive outcomes either for themselves (i.e., for enhance-
ment goals) or for their relationships (i.e., for intimacy goals), they
reported increased sexual desire. Furthermore, these associations
remained significant even after we controlled for relationship
satisfaction, relationship duration, and frequency of sexual inter-
course over the course of the 14-day study. In contrast, two of the
measures of avoidance sexual goals (i.e., Self-Affirmation and
Coping) were not significantly associated with sexual desire, and
10
We conducted additional analyses in which we analyzed each of the
three sexual desire items separately (i.e., wanting sex, enjoying sex, being
sexually aroused). When we included both approach and avoidance goals
simultaneously, approach social goals significantly predicted daily arousal,
␤⫽.18, t(69) 2.39, p .05, and desire for sex, ␤⫽.15, t(69) 2.04,
p .05, and marginally predicted daily enjoyment, ␤⫽.15, t(69) 1.91,
p .10. There were no significant associations between avoidance social
goals and any of the individual-item dependent measures of sexual desire.
817
APPROACH GOALS AND SEXUAL DESIRE
the other two measures of avoidance sexual goals (i.e., Self-
Affirmation and Partner Approval) were marginally negatively
associated with sexual desire.
Approach Sexual Goals as a Mediator
Another hypothesis, supported in Study 2, was that approach
sexual goals would mediate the association between approach
social goals and sexual desire. Study 3 used a more detailed
measure of sexual goals than that included in Study 2, with many
items distinguishing between self-focused (i.e., Enhancement) and
other-focused (i.e., Intimacy) approach sexual goals. Before test-
ing for mediation, we examined associations between approach
social goals and both types of approach sexual goals. Approach
social goals were not associated with enhancement sexual goals,
␤⫽.04, p .72, but were associated with intimacy sexual goals,
␤⫽.40, t(69) 4.43, p .001. Therefore, in the following
analyses, we examined intimacy sexual goals as a mediator of the
association between approach social goals and sexual desire. We
used the aggregated data and the composite measure of sexual
desire.
As in Study 2, standard (OLS) hierarchical regression analysis
based on the principles of Baron and Kenny (1986) was used to
test mediation. Approach social goals were marginally associated
with sexual desire (r .20, p .08). Approach social goals were
significantly associated with intimacy sexual goals (r .42, p
.001). Finally, intimacy sexual goals significantly predicted sexual
desire after we controlled for approach social goals, ␤⫽.39, p
.01, and the marginally significant direct effect from approach
social goals to sexual desire dropped to nonsignificance, ␤⫽.04,
p .76. A significant Sobel (1982) test indicated that the drop in
the value of the betas was significant (z 2.36, p .05),
providing evidence for mediation. The pattern of results is similar
to the one found in Study 2, which is displayed in Figure 3.
Relationship Events and Daily Sexual Desire
A third aim of this study was to examine whether daily rela-
tionship events predicted daily sexual desire and whether approach
social goals moderated these associations. Participants reported an
average of 4.23 positive events and 1.25 negative events each day.
The most common positive events included “my partner told me
that he/she loves me” and “my partner made me laugh.” The most
common negative events included “my partner did something that
made me feel irritated or angry” and “my partner and I had a minor
disagreement.” As predicted, on days when participants reported
more frequent positive events (than their own average across the
14-day study), they reported significantly greater sexual desire,
␤⫽.26, t(249) 2.69, p .01. On days when participants
reported more frequent negative events, they reported significantly
less sexual desire, ␤⫽⫺.12, t(249) ⫽⫺2.34, p .05.
We further predicted that approach social goals would moderate
the association between daily positive relationship events and
sexual desire. To test this hypothesis, we predicted daily sexual
desire from positive events at Level 1. At Level 2, we included
approach social goals (grand mean centered) as a predictor of both
the intercept of sexual desire and the slope of positive events with
sexual desire. A similar model was used for negative events.
For positive events, approach social goals were a marginally
significant predictor of the slope between sexual desire and posi-
tive events, ␤⫽.18, t(247) 1.83, p .07, such that compared
with those with weak approach goals, individuals with strong
approach goals experienced a marginally greater increase in sexual
desire on days when they reported more positive events (see Figure
4). When relationship duration, sexual frequency, and relationship
satisfaction were added as covariates to Level 2, this effect re-
mained marginally significant, ␤⫽.16, t(244) 1.65, p .10.
We also tested whether approach social goals moderated the as-
sociation between negative events and desire. Approach social
goals were a significant predictor of the slope between sexual
desire and negative events, ␤⫽.12, t(247) 2.14, p .05, such
that compared with those with weak approach goals, individuals
with strong approach goals experienced less of a decrease in sexual
desire on days when they reported more negative events (see
Figure 5). When relationship duration, sexual frequency, and re-
lationship satisfaction were added as covariates to Level 2, this
effect remained significant, ␤⫽.12, t(244) 2.08, p .05.
Additional analyses conducted to determine whether the interac-
tions between approach goals and positive and negative events
were further moderated by gender revealed no significant effects.
Brief Discussion
Study 3 extended the results of the previous two studies in
several important ways. First, it showed that approach social goals
measured more generally predict daily sexual desire. Second, it
extended the findings from Study 2 by showing that approach
sexual goals that focus on the self (e.g., to pursue one’s own sexual
pleasure) and approach sexual goals that focus on the partner/
relationship (e.g., to please one’s partner or enhance intimacy)
were both associated with increased sexual desire. Third, it re-
vealed that other-focused approach sexual goals (intimacy goals)
mediated the association between approach social goals and daily
sexual desire. Fourth, it replicated the results of Studies 2 and 3
Table 1
Associations Between Sexual Goals and Daily Sexual Desire in
Study 3
Variable
Outcome: daily
sexual desire
t
Approach sexual goals
Enhancement goals .65
***
7.87
a
Intimacy goals .21
**
2.95
a
Avoidance sexual goals
Self-affirmation goals .12
1.74
a
Coping goals .04 0.86
a
Partner approval goals .11
1.24
a
Peer approval goals .02 0.11
a
Control variables
Relationship duration .01 0.08
b
Relationship satisfaction .12
*
1.88
b
Sexual frequency .17
*
1.85
b
Note. All numbers are standardized hierarchial linear model coefficients.
a
df 244.
b
df 68.
p .10.
*
p .05.
**
p .01.
***
p .001.
818
IMPETT, STRACHMAN, FINKEL, AND GABLE
showing that avoidance social and sexual goals were not signifi-
cantly associated with daily sexual desire. Finally, it showed that
relationship events are an important moderator of the link between
approach social goals and daily sexual desire. More specifically,
people with strong approach goals experienced even greater sexual
desire on days that they reported many positive events and less of
a decrease in sexual desire on days that they reported many
negative events than individuals with weak approach social goals.
General Discussion
Numerous studies have documented the importance of sexual
desire in promoting satisfaction and stability in long-term relation-
ships (e.g., Yeh et al., 2006). Many individuals report that their
own or a partner’s low sexual desire creates problems for their
relationships (Laumann et al., 1994), and some couples seek sex
therapy in order to deal with one or both partners’ lack of sexual
desire (McCarthy, 1999). The three studies described in this article
provide converging support for the importance of approach goals
in enabling dating couples to maintain high levels of sexual desire.
Study 1 showed that the adoption of approach relationship goals
buffered against declines in sexual desire over a 6-month period in
relationships. Whereas people with weak approach goals (i.e.,
those possessing a lack of interest in pursuing growth, fun, and
development in their relationships) experienced declines in sexual
desire over the course of the 6-month study, people with strong
approach goals (i.e., those who possessed a great deal of interest in
pursuing positive outcomes in their relationships) maintained high
levels of sexual desire over the course of the study.
Study 2 showed that approach relationship goals predicted ele-
vated sexual desire during daily sexual interactions and that this
association was mediated by approach sexual goals. That is, people
who are generally oriented toward creating positive outcomes in
their relationships may view sexual interactions as one way to
create closeness and intimacy, and their approach sexual goals
may, in turn, predict greater desire during daily sexual interactions.
Finally, Study 3 showed that approach sexual goals that focus on
Figure 4. Approach social goals as a moderator of the association between positive events and sexual desire
(Study 3).
Figure 5. Approach social goals as a moderator of the association between negative events and sexual desire
(Study 3).
819
APPROACH GOALS AND SEXUAL DESIRE
the self (e.g., to pursue one’s own sexual pleasure) and approach
sexual goals that focus on others (e.g., to please one’s partner or to
enhance intimacy) were both associated with daily sexual desire.
Moreover, Study 3 showed that people with strong approach goals
experienced even greater sexual desire on days that they reported
many positive events. This effect is consistent with previous re-
search that has shown that strong approach tendencies are associ-
ated with even greater increases in approach behaviors when
signals of movement toward the goal (i.e., gains) are experienced
(Fo¨rster, Higgins, & Idson, 1998). Finally, approach goals seemed
to buffer against the deleterious effect that negative relationship
events had on sexual desire, such that individuals with strong
approach goals reported less of a decrease in desire on days that
they reported many negative events than individuals with weak
approach goals. Although we did not specifically predict this
finding, it is consistent with previous work that has found that
approach goals are associated with interpreting ambiguous or
neutral information in a positive manner (Strachman & Gable,
2006). Thus, those with strong approach goals may have reframed
negative events more positively, which may have attenuated the
association between negative events and sexual desire.
The current studies used a combination of longitudinal and daily
experience methods to examine the link between approach goals
and sexual desire. In Study 1, participants provided biweekly
assessments of sexual desire, enabling us to examine the influence
of approach goals measured early in relationships on the mainte-
nance of sexual desire over a 6-month period. In Studies 2 and 3,
participants provided daily accounts of their sexual desire, en-
abling us to obtain accurate, daily accounts of sexual desire. The
use of a daily experience method enabled us to study relationship
processes within the context of daily life in a way that is not
possible with more traditional, cross-sectional designs (Bolger,
Davis, & Rafaeli, 2003).
These studies contribute to a growing body of research demon-
strating the utility of approach–avoidance models of motivation in
understanding a broad range of phenomena in everyday life (e.g.,
Elliot & Sheldon, 1997; Gable et al., 2000). More specifically, the
current studies are part of an emerging area of research that
focuses on motivation and close relationships (Gable, 2006b; Ga-
ble & Strachman, 2007; Impett, Gable, & Peplau, 2005). Previous
research guided by Gable’s (2006b) model of social motivation has
shown that approach (but not avoidance) motives and goals are
associated with positive outcomes including positive emotions and
relationship satisfaction (Gable, 2006a, 2006b; Impett, Gable, &
Peplau, 2005). Our results show that sensitivity to positive rela-
tionships processes, such as intimacy, growth, and fun, has impor-
tant implications for close relationships that are independent and
separate from sensitivity to negative processes, such as conflict
and rejection. It is particularly important to note that there are far
fewer studies focusing on the role of positive processes than those
focused on negative processes in the field of close relationships,
reflecting possible empirical and theoretical oversights (Gable &
Haidt, 2005; Reis & Gable, 2003).
Limitations and Future Directions
The results of these studies provide several interesting directions
for future research. First, similar to most of the available research
on sexual desire, the current research focused on only one member
of the couple. Oftentimes, the assessment of sexual desire in
couples is relative; that is, people perceive that their sexual desire
is either too low or too high only after comparing their own desire
with their partner’s desire (Davies, Katz, & Jackson, 1999; Ellison,
2001). Future research should obtain sexual desire reports from
both members of dating or married couples. We also measured the
relationship and sexual goals of only one member of the couple;
however, goals in relationships are different than goals in other
domains such as achievement or other life tasks in that they
involve coordinating with another person who has his or her own
goals. For example, what are the implications for sexual function-
ing in a relationship if one partner has strong approach goals and
the other partner has weak approach goals? Future research should
examine the joint contribution of both partners’ goals to both
partners’ sexual desire, sampling the partners’ feelings at specific
moments in their daily lives as well as over longer periods of time.
Most of the participants in these studies were college students in
relatively new relationships in which sexual desire may have been
near its peak. It is possible that the effect of relationship goals on
desire might be even more magnified in relationships of greater
duration and commitment, such as in married couples. It is also
possible that approach goals fail to promote sexual desire in
long-term couples who have already experienced steep declines in
sexual desire. Future research focusing on relationships of greater
duration and commitment is needed to examine these ideas. An-
other important direction for future research to examine is the
benefits of adopting approach goals for other aspects of relation-
ships in addition to sexuality. Desires to pursue growth and de-
velopment in relationships may also be associated with other
positive behaviors and processes such as relationship commitment
(Strachman & Gable, 2006), willingness to sacrifice (Impett, Ga-
ble, & Peplau, 2005), and willingness to forgive a partner’s wrong-
doings (Finkel, Rusbult, Kumashiro, & Hannon, 2002).
Another limitation stemmed from the fact that participants’
sexual desire was only assessed on days when they engaged in
sexual intercourse (in Studies 2 and 3). Individuals sometimes
choose to engage in sexual activity in order to please the partner or
to avoid conflict rather to out of personal sexual interest (Levine,
2002). Indeed, research has shown that both men and women
report having engaged in sexual behavior in the absence of desire
(see review by Impett & Peplau, 2003), suggesting that the expe-
rience of sexual desire does not entirely overlap with sexual
behavior. An interesting direction for future research would be to
assess sexual desire both on days that couples engage in sexual
activity and on days that sexual activity does not occur. Future
research would also benefit from the use of a measure of sexual
desire that distinguishes between desire in solitary and dyadic
contexts (e.g., Spector, Carey, & Steinberg, 1996). Finally, this
research was centrally concerned with the motivational component
of the human sexual response (i.e., sexual desire), but the measures
used in each of the studies included related sexual constructs such
as sexual enjoyment and arousal. Although auxiliary analyses
using individual items (i.e., sexual arousal, desire, and enjoyment)
did not change the pattern of results, it will be important for future
research to include more nuanced measures to capture possibly
meaningful distinctions among these interrelated sexual constructs.
Although our theoretical framework proposes that motivation
influences sexual desire, our data do not provide a definitive test of
this direction of causality. It is also possible that experiencing high
820
IMPETT, STRACHMAN, FINKEL, AND GABLE
levels of sexual desire may also cause people to pursue approach
goals in their relationships. Future research in which both approach
and avoidance goals are experimentally manipulated (Strachman
& Gable, 2006) would provide a more refined explanation of the
findings reported in the current studies. Finally, while the results of
the two daily experience studies suggest that the association be-
tween approach goals and sexual desire applies equally well to
White and Asian participants, it will be important for future
research to replicate these effects in a sample of greater racial/
ethnic diversity and in non-Western cultures.
Implications
The results from three studies document the importance of
approach goals for predicting elevated levels of sexual desire on a
daily basis and maintaining desire over time. Unfortunately, the
current study cannot address the question of whether it is possible
for people with chronically low levels of approach goals to learn to
focus on the positive things to be experienced in their relation-
ships. Nevertheless, it is important to note that, by definition, goals
are short-term cognitive representations of wants and fears that
should be malleable and sensitive to situational cues (Gable,
2006b). Moreover, previous research has shown that goals can be
experimentally manipulated in the achievement domain (e.g., El-
liot & Harackiewicz, 1996) and in the highly similar area of
regulatory focus research (e.g., Shah, Higgins, & Friedman, 1998).
Experimental evidence for changing relationship goals in situ has
yet to be conducted, but on the basis of theory and previous
experimental research, we expect that it is possible for people’s
goals in their relationships to change over time.
This research also points to the central importance of consider-
ing the role of gender in understanding sexual desire in intimate
relationships. Approach goals were a stronger predictor of sexual
desire for women than for men in the two studies that used a
measure of approach goals in romantic relationships. Thus, the
results of this study support a growing body of research that
demonstrates the importance of relationship dynamics for wom-
en’s sexual desire relative to men’s (e.g., Basson, 2002, 2006;
Peplau, 2003). In recent years, publicity about treatments for
men’s erection problems focused attention on women’s sexuality
and provoked a competitive commercial hunt for “the female
Viagra” (Tiefer, 2002). This hunt reflects a general medicalization
of sexuality; many people are trying to find pharmaceutical “so-
lutions” to what in some cases may be relationship problems.
Because women’s sexual desire is much more closely tied to their
goals in relationships than men’s sexual desire, attempts to boost
women’s sexual desire through pharmacological intervention may
be misguided. The results of this research highlight the importance
of considering the interpersonal aspects of relationships when
thinking about how to treat problems of low sexual desire—for
women but also for men.
Concluding Comments
While a wealth of research has documented important links
between sexual desire and relationship quality in intimate relation-
ships (e.g., Regan, 2000; Sprecher, 2002; Yeh et al., 2006), much
less research has investigated factors that may help promote and
sustain sexual desire in relationships over time. In this article, three
studies documented the utility of approach–avoidance motiva-
tional theory as well as the important roles of both approach
relationship and sexual goals in helping individuals to maintain
high levels of sexual desire.
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APPROACH GOALS AND SEXUAL DESIRE
... The model has also been successfully applied to the study of sexuality (Gewirtz-Meydan & Ayalon, 2019;Impett et al., 2005bImpett et al., , 2008, particularly in the exploration of motivation for sex (Muise et al., 2013(Muise et al., , 2017. For example, in a sample of North American college students, approach motivation for sex, compared to avoidance motives, was associated with a positive change in both personal and couple well-being (Impett et al., 2005b). ...
... Strong approach motivation has been observed to be positively associated with sexual interest (desire). In three repeated measurement studies, individuals who scored high on approach motives also reported higher levels of sexual desire and a lesser decline in desire on days marked by negative relationship dynamics than other participants (Impett et al., 2008). Although it is currently unknown whether stable sexual interest in committed relationships is consistently associated with approach/avoidance motivation for sex, this question may be of particular importance in the context of discrepant sexual interest. ...
... H1 Based on some pre-pandemic evidence collected in student samples (Impett et al., 2005b(Impett et al., , 2008, we expect that approach motivation for sex, compared to avoidance motives, would be associated with better maintenance of sexual interest and less distress about discrepant sexual interest during the pandemic. ...
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Due to COVID-19 pandemic, different restrictive measures in terms of physical distancing and lockdowns have been introduced in most European countries, affecting all facets of social life. Currently, little is known about how partnered individuals perceive changes in their sexual life during this complex emergency. This study explored retrospectively assessed changes in sexual interest for one’s partner and levels of distress related to perceived sexual interest discrepancy during the first phase of the pandemic in a large-scale online sample of partnered individuals (n = 4813; Mage = 38.5 years, SD = 10.74) recruited between May and July 2020 in seven European Union countries and Turkey. We also examined the possible role of approach/avoidance motives for sex in reported changes in sexual interest and associated distress. Most participants (53%) reported no change in their sexual interest during the pandemic, followed by those who reported an increase (28.5%). The pattern was similar across the eight countries. Distress about discrepant sexual interest, which was only weakly related to changes in sexual interest, was significantly associated with relationship quality and emotional closeness with a partner, coping with and worrying about the pandemic, and specific motivation for sex. In contrast to avoidant and relationship-focused approach motivation, ego-focused approach motivation was related to stable sexual interest during the pandemic. The current study contributes to the understanding of the link between sexual interest and complex emergencies. Considering that the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the reported experiences and perceptions are prone to change.
... Despite an overall trend for desire to decline over time, some people describe feeling high desire for their partner decades into their relationship (Acevedo & Aron, 2009;O'Leary et al., 2012). Given the link between desire and individual and relational wellbeing, a growing body of research has focused on understanding the protective factors that might buffer against desire waning (e.g., Birnbaum, et al., 2016;Impett et al., 2008;Muise et al., 2013). One factor gaining empirical support is self-expansion-shared novel experiences with a partner that expand one's sense of self or view of the world (Aron & Aron, 1986;1996;Aron et al., 2000). ...
... Research on the related concepts of intimacy and perceived partner responsiveness (Aron et al., 1992;Reis et al., 2004) suggest that closeness should also be associated with desire. Striving to promote intimacy and closeness in a relationship was associated with desire daily and over a 6-month period (Impett et al., 2008) and experimentally increasing perceived partner responsiveness (which is a construct linked with closeness; Reis et al., 2004) led to a boost in desire (Birnbaum et al., 2016). In line with self-expansion theory, we hypothesize that including aspects of the partner into the self (i.e., closeness) is what accounts for the association between self-expansion and relationship outcomes. ...
... The idea that people and relationships function best when couple members can feel both connected and distinct, related and autonomous, closeness and otherness, is not new (Aron, McLaughlin-Volpe, et al., 2004;, yet there has been limited empirical research testing these ideas in couples' daily lives, within the domain of sexuality, and simultaneously. Although closeness is linked to higher desire in relationships (Birnbaum et al., 2016;Impett et al., 2008;Muise et al., 2019), clinicians and researchers have theorized that closeness, without sufficient otherness or distinction between partners, can stifle desire (Perel et al., 2007;Schnarch, 1991). The current results support the conceptualization of otherness as a separate process from closeness, as closeness and otherness independently mediated the relationship between self-expansion and desire (Prekatsounaki et al., 2019;Schnarch, 1991), but more work is needed on otherness in relationships. ...
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Sexual desire is associated with romantic relationship satisfaction and maintenance, yet desire for a partner often declines over time. Self-expansion (new experiences that facilitate growth) with a partner boosts desire, but how this occurs is not well-understood. Across three studies—a 21-day daily experience study, a one-month weekly experience study, and an experimental study—we tested whether closeness, and a new construct otherness (seeing a partner in a new light), accounted for the association between self-expansion and desire. Across studies, self-expansion was associated with higher closeness and otherness, and, in turn, higher sexual desire (indirect effect through otherness significant in Studies 1 and 3). The findings provide evidence for the importance of fostering closeness, as well as otherness, in the maintenance of desire.
... Its beneficial effects on sexual desire in women have been elaborated upon on theoretical level (Meana, 2010), while in the clinical field it is recognized as a prerequisite for sexual pleasure (Perel, 2006), and incorporated in psychosexual skill exercises aimed to address sexual desire problems (McCarthy & Wald, 2015). On an empirical level, research has revealed that adopting self-focused approach goals for engaging in sex (e.g., "I have sex because it feels good") significantly predicts daily sexual desire for one's partner (Impett et al., 2008a(Impett et al., , 2008b. Research on highly desiring women dating younger men has additionally shown that these women reported doing so (partly) because they felt that their pleasure was best attended to by younger men's sexual endurance and erectile capacities (Alarie, 2020), an observation in line with empirical evidence linking sexual desire of women to the erectile functioning of their male partners (Goldstein et al., 2005). ...
... Additionally, in a qualitative study (Herbenick et al., 2014), women reported meeting their partner's needs as one of the strategies they use to get their sexual desire back on track. These findings align with research on approach sexual goals that has revealed that engaging in sex with a partner in order to please them is positively associated with sexual desire in the short-and long-term (Impett et al., 2008a(Impett et al., , 2008b, while low sexual communal strength is associated with Female Sexual Interest/ Arousal Disorder . ...
... A favorable attitude, for example in the form of feeling a sense of love for or feeling protective of a partner, has been linked to dyadic sexual desire on theoretical (Levine, 2003a) and empirical (McCall & Meston, 2006;Ridley et al., 2006) levels. The same is the case for the expression of affection (Impett et al., 2008a(Impett et al., , 2008b. Summarizing the evidence, we conclude that intimacy brought into the dyadic interaction by a partner as subject of affiliation -either by seeking emotional closeness, by disclosing personal information, by experiencing positive affect for the partner or by expressing affection -contributes positively to the dyadic sexual desire experienced for this partner. ...
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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.
... The aforementioned scales have been used by multiple studies (see Table 2). In addition, three pre-existing scales, which were originally developed and applied outside research on mobile dating, were adapted to measure motivations for mobile dating, i.e., the Cybersex Motives Questionnaire (Franc et al., 2018; k = 1; 1.4%), the Antisocial Uses of Facebook Scale (Ferenczi et al., 2017; k = 1; 1.4%) and the Approach-Avoidance Relationship Goals Scale (Impett et al., 2008; k = 1; 1.4%; see Table 3). In addition, 18 studies used their self-developed Likert-type scales in measuring motivations for MDA use (25%; e.g., Zervoulis et al., 2020; see Table 4). ...
... Such future knowledge production on mobile dating is crucial, given the role of MDAs in contemporary society. (2019) Approach-avoidance relationship goals (Impett et al., 2008) Approach relationship goals Avoidance relationship goals Strugo and Muise (2019) Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved. ...
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Mobile dating applications (MDAs) have become commonly used tools to seek out dating and sexual partners online. The current review aimed to systematically synthesize empirical findings in 72 quantitative studies on mobile dating, published in ISI-ranked journals between 2014 and 2020. This review focused on summarizing different approaches toward mobile dating, identity features of quantitative research on mobile dating, and hypothesized antecedents and outcomes of mobile dating. Our findings showed, first, that the literature diverges in how mobile dating is operationalized. Second, quantitative research on mobile dating predominantly consists of cross-sectional studies that draw on theoretical insights from multiple disciplines. Third, a variety of traits and sociodemographics were associated with MDA use. In particular, using MDAs for (1) relational goals related to being male, non-heterosexual, higher levels of sociosexuality, sensation seeking, extraversion, and holding more positive peer norms about using MDAs for relational goals; (2) intrapersonal goals related to being female and having more socially impairing traits; and (3) entertainment goals related to having higher levels of sociosexuality, sensation seeking, and antisocial traits. Outcomes significantly associated with general use of MDAs were scoring higher on sexual permissiveness and on engaging in casual (unprotected) sexual intercourse, as well as having higher risk at nonconsensual sex. MDA use was also connected with increased psychological distress and body dissatisfaction. Shortcomings of the existing research approaches and measures are discussed and six methodological and theoretical recommendations for future research are provided.
... While the above hints at the why, passion decay research also suggests some employees may be affected less by this kind of work experience. That is, passion may be less likely to decay for those who are broad-minded, innately curious, and imaginative, as these individuals are able to derive meaning and enjoyment from their daily experiences (Birnbaum & Finkel, 2015;Impett et al., 2008). Conceptually, this reasoning dovetails with the personality trait openness to experience (Costa & McCrae, 1992). ...
... Rather, this model notes that the question for whom will passion decay be more likely to occur may depend on whether employees are able to identify a means of compensating for the standardized and routinized experience that is driving their passion decay (Carswell et al., 2019). Specifically, this tenet of the passion decay model posits that individuals who are broad-minded and curious are more driven to explore their environment and able to derive meaningfulness from their encounters and experiences in it (Birnbaum & Finkel, 2015;Impett et al., 2008). For example, passion decay scholars argue that individuals who are more imaginative and explorative are less likely to experience passion decay for their romantic relationships when those experiences become tedious, monotonous, and repetitive (e.g., Acevedo et al., 2012;Carswell et al., 2019;Sheets, 2014;Tennov, 1979). ...
Article
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The growing trend of introducing robots into employees’ work lives has become increasingly salient during the global COVID‐19 pandemic. In light of this pandemic, it is likely that organizational decision‐makers are seeing value in coupling employees with robots for both efficiency‐ and health‐related reasons. An unintended consequence of this coupling, however, may be an increased level of work routinization and standardization. We draw primarily from the model of passion decay from the relationship and clinical psychology literature to develop theory and test a model arguing that passion decays as employees increasingly interact with robots for their work activities. We demonstrate that this passion decay leads to an increase of withdrawal behavior from both the domains of work and family. Drawing further from the model of passion decay, we reveal that employees higher in openness to experience are less likely to suffer from passion decay upon more frequent interactions with robots in the course of work. Across a multi‐source, multi‐wave field study conducted in Hong Kong (Study 1) and a simulation‐based experiment conducted in the United States (Study 2), our hypotheses received support. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
... Measures of approach and avoidance motivation in the social domain have been developed and shown to predict a variety of social outcomes, such as satisfaction, loneliness, and the reporting of the frequency and impact of positive and negative social events (Elliot et al., 2006;Gable, 2006;Gable, 2015). In addition, in specific close relationships, such as a romantic relationship, approach and avoidance motivations have been shown to be associated with a variety of important outcomes, such as relationship satisfaction, sexual desire, responsive behaviors, stress communication, dyadic coping, commitment strategies, and relational aggression (Frank & Brandstätter, 2002;Impett et al., 2005;Impett et al., 2008;Impett et al., 2010;Kuster et al., 2017;Moron & Mandal, 2021;Strachman & Gable, 2006a). Past work has typically shown more favorable outcomes to be associated with stronger approach goals. ...
... Items are responded to based on a 7-item scale (1 = not at all true of me, 7 = very true of me). This modified scale has been used in previous research (Impett et al., 2008). The alpha reliabilities of the relationship approach and avoidance scales were .88 and .72, ...
Article
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We hypothesized that people’s relationship motives would be associated with how they think about their romantic partners’ personal qualities. Specifically, across two studies using a community and student sample, we examined how individual differences in social approach and social avoidance goal strength shaped perceptions of traits in romantic partners. We utilized two different reaction-time-based methods that had participants quickly describe or categorize their partner. Through a series of partial correlation analyses, we found that approach goals were associated with more easily perceiving and evaluating partners in terms of positive traits that partners possess. In contrast, avoidance goals were associated with greater ease in perceiving partners in terms of the negative traits they lack. Results are discussed in terms of the ways in which these different patterns of framing a partner’s traits may have implications for relationship satisfaction and partner evaluation.
... Fourth and finally, the models were unable to predict the extent to which romantic interest increased versus decreased over the subsequent waves. It might seem obviously true that baseline measures could not predict slopes over time, but published studies commonly report such effects in established relationship contexts (e.g., Impett et al., 2008;McNulty et al., 2021McNulty et al., , 2013Murray et al., 2011;Valentine et al., 2020), and they follow from theories positing that incompatibilities are latent early in relationships and primarily reveal themselves with time (Felmlee, 1995). Future research will need to examine why the current findings revealed a different conclusion, and it is possible that we did not assess enough time points for most potential partners to reliably detect change. ...
Article
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There are massive literatures on initial attraction and established relationships. But few studies capture early relationship development: the interstitial period in which people experience rising and falling romantic interest for partners who could—but often do not—become sexual or dating partners. In this study, 208 single participants reported on 1,065 potential romantic partners across 7,179 data points over 7 months. In stage 1, we used random forests (a type of machine learning) to estimate how well different classes of variables (e.g., individual differences vs. target-specific constructs) predicted participants’ romantic interest in these potential partners. We also tested (and found only modest support for) the perceiver × target moderation account of compatibility: the meta-theoretical perspective that some types of perceivers experience greater romantic interest for some types of targets. In stage 2, we used multilevel modeling to depict predictors retained by the random-forests models; robust (positive) main effects emerged for many variables, including sociosexuality, sex drive, perceptions of the partner’s positive attributes (e.g., attractive and exciting), attachment features (e.g., proximity seeking), and perceived interest. Finally, we found no support for ideal partner preference-matching effects on romantic interest. The discussion highlights the need for new models to explain the origin of romantic compatibility.
... Over time, most couples experience a decline in their sexual well-being, including sexual function and satisfaction (Impett et al., 2008;Murray & Milhausen, 2012;Quinn-Nilas, 2020). A 7-year longitudinal study using two time points found that women reported lower desire, arousal, lubrication, and satisfaction at Time 2 compared with Time 1 (Gunst et al., 2017). ...
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Whereas greater levels of intimacy have been shown to promote couples’ sexual well-being, recent theories suggest that satisfying sex is maintained via the capacity to encourage the partner’s individuality, while remaining intimately connected. Responses to capitalization attempts (i.e., the disclosure of a positive personal event) provide an opportunity to strengthen both the couple’s intimacy and each partner’s autonomy. Although responses to capitalization attempts are linked to couples’ greater relationship adjustment, very little is known about their relation to couples’ sexual well-being. The aim of this study was to examine the associations between self-reported, perceived, and observed responses to capitalization attempts and sexual satisfaction, sexual distress, and sexual function in 151 cohabiting couples who participated in a filmed discussion in the laboratory. They also completed self-report questionnaires pertaining to their responsiveness and to that of the partner during the discussion, as well as their sexual well-being. Results indicated that one’s higher levels of self-reported and partner-perceived active–constructive responses (enthusiasm/elaboration) during the discussion were associated with one’s own greater sexual satisfaction. Higher levels of perceived passive–constructive responses (quiet but interested) from one’s partner were associated with one’s own lower sexual satisfaction, and one’s higher levels of self-reported and perceived passive–destructive responses (lack of interest/self-focus) were associated with one’s own greater sexual distress. Finally, higher levels of observed active–destructive responses (undermines/denies the positive nature of the event) were associated with one’s own lower sexual function, while in women, they were associated with their lower sexual satisfaction. Findings contribute to a growing body of literature underscoring the importance of intimacy for sexual well-being in long-term relationships.
... The level of experienced intimacy in the relationships significantly influence individuals' social development and adoption [3,4], mental and physical health [5]. Furthermore, intimacy contributes to the relationship of couples and helping them to cope with daily pressures and stress [4,6] and increases their harmony and satisfaction with sexual experiences [7][8][9]. ...
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In this article, we attempt to distinguish between the properties of moderator and mediator variables at a number of levels. First, we seek to make theorists and researchers aware of the importance of not using the terms moderator and mediator interchangeably by carefully elaborating, both conceptually and strategically, the many ways in which moderators and mediators differ. We then go beyond this largely pedagogical function and delineate the conceptual and strategic implications of making use of such distinctions with regard to a wide range of phenomena, including control and stress, attitudes, and personality traits. We also provide a specific compendium of analytic procedures appropriate for making the most effective use of the moderator and mediator distinction, both separately and in terms of a broader causal system that includes both moderators and mediators. (46 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Most contemporary achievement goal conceptualizations consist of a performance goal versus mastery goal dichotomy. The present research offers an alternative framework by partitioning the performance goal orientation into independent approach and avoidance motivational orientations. Two experiments investigated the predictive utility of the proposed approach-avoidance achievement goal conceptualization in the intrinsic motivation domain. Results from both experiments supported the proposed framework; only performance goals grounded in the avoidance of failure undermined intrinsic motivation. Task involvement was validated as a mediator of the observed effects on intrinsic motivation. Ramifications for the achievement goal approach to achievement motivation and future research avenues are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Whereas the sexual lives of college students have been the focus of many research studies, there is very little research on those young adults who have chosen to remain virgins. In this study, 97 virgin men and 192 virgin women from a Midwestern U.S. university were surveyed about the reasons they were virgins, their affective reactions to their virginity status, and other aspects of their virginity (e.g., the social pressure they received to remain a virgin vs. to become sexually active). As hypothesized, women rated more reasons for virginity (particularly interpersonal ones) as important and had more positive reactions (were more proud and happy and less embarrassed and guilty) about being a virgin than did men. Women reported more social pressure than did men to remain a virgin, and men were more likely than women to expect to become a nonvirgin in the near future. Associations among the reasons, affective reactions, and other aspects of virginity were examined for men versus women. Because data were collected from cohorts of virgin students over six years (1990-1995), differences in perceptions of virginity over time were also examined. More recent cohorts of virgins felt more pride about their virginity status and were more likely to report that fear of AIDS and STDs were reasons they remained chaste.
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This article reviews the current state of knowledge about hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). Despite considerable clinical attention that has been given to this disorder, ambiguity remains concerning the nature and treatment of low sexual desire. This article reviews diagnostic issues, including prevalence estimates. Current theories of etiology and maintenance are highlighted, as well as available assessment strategies. Controlled treatment studies are reviewed, with particular focus on the need to develop desire-specific interventions. Throughout this review, areas where additional work is needed are highlighted.
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Joint effects of daily events and dispositional sensitivities to cues of reward and punishment on daily positive affect (PA) and negative affect (NA) were examined in 3 diary studies. Study 1 showed that positive events were strongly related to PA but not NA, whereas negative events were strongly related to NA but not PA. Studies 2 and 3 examined how the dispositional sensitivities of independent appetitive and aversive motivational systems, the Behavioral Activation System (BAS) and the Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS), moderated these relationships. Participants in Study 2 with higher BAS sensitivity reported more PA on average; those with more sensitive BIS reported more NA. Also, BIS moderated reactions to negative events, such that higher BIS sensitivity magnified reactions to negative events. Study 3 replicated these findings and showed that BAS predisposed people to experience more positive events. Results demonstrate the value of distinguishing within-person and between-person effects to clarify the functionally independent processes by which dispositional sensitivities influence affect.
Article
Gray (1981, 1982) holds that 2 general motivational systems underlie behavior and affect: a behavioral inhibition system (BIS) and a behavioral activation system (BAS). Self-report scales to assess dispositional BIS and BAS sensitivities were created. Scale development (Study 1) and convergent and discriminant validity in the form of correlations with alternative measures are reported (Study 2). In Study 3, a situation in which Ss anticipated a punishment was created. Controlling for initial nervousness, Ss high in BIS sensitivity (assessed earlier) were more nervous than those low. In Study 4, a situation in which Ss anticipated a reward was created. Controlling for initial happiness, Ss high in BAS sensitivity (Reward Responsiveness and Drive scales) were happier than those low. In each case the new scales predicted better than an alternative measure. Discussion is focused on conceptual implications.
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This study presented and tested a model of sexual satisfaction for late adolescent girls. In this model, sexual self-concept and approach sexual motives were tested as predictors of adolescent girls' sexual satisfaction with their most recent experience of sexual intercourse. A total of 116 girls in 12th grade (ages 16-19) completed measures of sexual self-concept and sexual experiences. A smaller number of girls (n = 70) with intercourse experience completed measures of their motives for engaging in sex and their sexual satisfaction with their most recent intercourse experience. Results showed that both sexual self-concept and approach sexual motives were associated with greater sexual experience across a broad range of sexual behaviors. Furthermore, sexual self-concept and approach sex motives predicted higher sexual satisfaction at most recent intercourse. The importance of investigating positive factors in girls' developing sexuality is discussed.
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This paper reviewed evidence bearing on questionnaire measures of affiliative tendency and sensitivity to rejection (Mehrabian, 1970a). Subjects ( n = 916 undergraduates) who scored higher on the measure of affiliative tendency behaved in a more affiliative way, were more ingratiating and elicited greater relaxation from the strangers they met. They were less anxious, elicited more positive attitudes, judged themselves and were judged to be more self-confident, and perceived themselves as more similar to others. Subjects who scored higher on the measure of sensitivity to rejection were strikingly different. They were less reaxed, more anxious, and were judged less positively, more negatively, and as less confident, even though they had positive impressions of the strangers they met. It has been shown that Dependency is simply an equally weighted sum of affiliative tendency and sensitivity to rejection.
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In this article, we introduce this special issue by establishing a conceptual foundation for the distinction between approach and avoidance motivation. We do so primarily by explicating several reasons why the approach–avoidance distinction should be viewed as fundamental and basic to the study of human behavior. In addition, we compare and contrast the “approach–avoidance” designation with other designations that have been used in the motivational literature to cover the same or similar conceptual ground. Finally, we conclude by briefly overviewing the other contributions to this special issue, specifically highlighting how they make use of the approach–avoidance distinction.