Sexual Health

Sophie Bergeron  Ph.D


Did you know that being responsive to a positive event experienced by your partner could be associated with your sexual well-being?

There is growing evidence that intimacy, i.e., emotional closeness, may promote couples’ sexual well-being. However, some argue that the key to maintain a satisfying sex life is rather a balance between intimacy and differentiation (e.g., Schnarch, 1991). There is a relationship context in which this balance is achieved: responses to capitalization attempts, which involves the disclosure of a positive personal event that took place outside the couple's relationship. Partner responses following the disclosure of a positive event that does not include the partner can be classified into four types: active–constructive, passive–constructive, active–destructive, and passive–destructive. Only active-constructive responses (i.e., enthusiasm, elaboration) are considered responsive and would be the opportunity to strengthen the couple's intimacy (emotional closeness) and, at the same time, to show acceptance and recognition of the partner's individuality. There are studies that have found links between the different types of partners' responses in the context of capitalization attempts and relational and individual benefits, but none that have examined associations with sexual well-being in community couples.

The aim of this study was to examine the associations between one’s perception of their own responses, their partner’s responses, and observed responses to capitalization attempts and sexual satisfaction, distress, and function in 151 same-gender and mixed-gender cohabiting couples. These couples participated in a filmed discussion in the laboratory, in which each partner took turns in sharing a positive personal event. Each participant completed self-report questionnaires assessing their own and their partner’s responses as well as their sexual satisfaction, distress and function.

What did we find?

Results indicated that one’s higher levels of self-reported and partner-perceived active-constructive responses (e.g., enthusiasm, elaboration) were associated with one’s own greater sexual satisfaction. Higher levels of observed active-destructive responses (e.g., undermines the event/denies the positive nature of the event) in women were associated with their lower sexual satisfaction, while higher levels of perceived passive-constructive responses (e.g., quiet but attentive and/or interested) from one’s partner were associated with one’s own lower sexual satisfaction. Higher levels of self-reported and perceived passive-destructive responses (e.g., lack of interest and self-focus) were associated with one’s greater sexual distress. Finally, higher levels of observed active-destructive responses were associated with one’s lower sexual function.

The results support the theory suggesting that a satisfying sex life would be maintained by the ability to encourage the partner’s individuality, while remaining intimately connected (Schnarch, 2009). In addition, this study highlights the importance of positive daily interactions in couples’ sexual well-being. Finally, it would be clinically important to take into consideration the perception of each member of the couple, as well as the perception of the therapist himself, since each perspective (observer, partner who receives a disclosure, partner who discloses) can be associated with different variables.

If you would like to know more about this study, we invite you to read the full paper:

Bosisio, M., Rosen, N. O., Dubé, J. H., Vaillancourt-Morel, M-P., Daspe, M-È. et Bergeron, S. (2022). Will you be happy for me? Associations between self-reported, perceived, and observed responses to positive events and sexual well-being in cohabiting couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 39(8), 2454-2477. 

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