THE INTERRELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTIMACY, RELATIONSHIP FUNCTIONING, AND SEXUALITY AMONG MEN AND WOMEN IN COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS.
Key Words : Intimacy Relationships Sexuality Gender
The sizeable body of literature on the relationship between sexual satisfaction and marital satisfaction indicates that these two variables are strongly related in women (Hurlbert & Apt, 1994; Kumar & Dhyani, 1996; Apt, Hurlbert, Pierce, & White, 1996). Although at least one study found a minority of women in whom high levels of sexual satisfaction were associated with only moderate levels of marital satisfaction (Apt et al., 1996), the evidence to date has indicated a strong association between these parameters. However, there is some suggestion that this relationship between sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction may not be direct. For example, Cupach and Comstock (1990) found that for both males and females sexual satisfaction and relationship adjustment were not directly related, suggesting that the level of sexual satisfaction mediated the relationship between sexual communication satisfaction and relationship satisfaction or alternatively sexual communication satisfaction may affect relationship satisfaction which in turn affects sexual satisfaction. Their findings suggest that the nature of these interrelationships should be further evaluated by examining the. direct impact of the quality of sexual communication on both relationship quality and sexual satisfaction.
Henderson-King and Veroff (1994) also found that the strong association between marital and sexual satisfaction is not as simple as early studies would suggest. They found that for both sexes there was a strong association between sexual satisfaction and various measures of relationship quality, particularly in the first and third year of marriage. However, the association did not apply for all relationship variables and varied across the years of the marriage for both males and females. Given the above observations, it is possible that a better understanding of the relationship between sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction could be obtained if studies included a variable that related to both of these constructs. Since intimacy has been proposed as an important variable in explaining broad parameters of relationship functioning (Acker & Davis, 1992; Twohey & Ewing, 1995), one goal of the present study was to assess the impact of intimacy on various aspects of relationship functioning and sexual satisfaction.
There have been few empirical studies on the association between intimacy and sexual and relationship functioning. Prager (1989) found that level of intimacy was an important predictor of self disclosure (self disclosure was taken to be a measure of the level of communication within a relationship). Prager (1989) used a global measure of intimacy based on amount of time spent together, sharing of experiences, affection, comfort with sexuality, and compatibility. However, the individual contribution of each of these components to levels of communication was not assessed.
McCabe (1997) evaluated the differences in the levels of intimacy between sexually functional and sexually dysfunctional males and females. Sexually dysfunctional males experienced more substantial deficits than functional males in a wide range of the aspects of intimacy assessed in the study; dysfunctional females similarly demonstrated lower levels of intimacy than functional females but in fewer intimacy domains. One explanation for these results may be that intimacy is more strongly associated with sexual functioning among females, i.e., sexual dysfunction occurs even when the low levels of intimacy pertain to relatively few domains of intimacy. For males, most domains of intimacy must be impaired before sexual dysfunction occurs. Alternatively, if the sexual dysfunction precedes or exacerbates the deficits in intimacy, these results would suggest that sexual dysfunction results in greater decrements in intimacy for males than females. Longitudinal studies could well determine the validity of these interpretations.
The nature of the relationship between intimacy and marital quality and satisfaction has yet to be clearly determined. Acker & Davis (1992) found that there was a strong association between intimacy and both passion and commitment to the relationship, but the association between intimacy and relationship or sexual satisfactions was not explored. Passionate love appears to be strongly associated with marital satisfaction (Contreras, Hendrick & Hendrick, 1996) but the direct empirical link between intimacy and marital satisfaction has not been made.
In any study of sexual satisfaction, it is important to include information on the actual sexual experience of respondents. Haavio-Mannila and Kontula (1997) found that reciprocal feelings of love as well as frequent experience of and variety in sexual activities were associated with sexual satisfaction for both sexes. Likewise, Hally and Pollack (1993) found a strong association between variety of sexual experience and sexual satisfaction for both males and females. However, there appear to be gender differences in the nature of sexual activities that are enjoyed. Hatfield, Sprecher, Pillemer and Greenberger (1988) found that females wanted to participate in sexual activities that demonstrated love and intimacy, whereas males wanted to engage in sexual activities that were more focused on the arousal aspect of the interaction. In order to fully understand the contribution of sexual experience to both sexual and relationship satisfaction, researchers need information on a broad range of sexual variables including overt sexual experiences, attitudes toward sex held by both partners, presence and/or extent of sexual dysfunction, etc.
The research to date offers conflicting findings with regard to the interrelationships between intimacy, relationship functioning satisfaction and sexual functioning satisfaction. While a number of studies have included these variables, none assessed all of the variables within a single investigation. Since these variables are known to be interrelated, it is important to include all of the variables within a single research design to obtain a better understanding of the nature of the interrelationships.
The present study was designed to investigate the interrelationships between intimacy, sexuality and relationship functioning in adult males and females who were involved in an ongoing heterosexual relationship. The purpose was to determine how well different aspects of intimacy, sexual behaviour, sexual attitudes and sexual dysfunction predicted various dimensions of relationship quality and sexual satisfaction. It was hypothesized that:
(1) there would be no differences between males and females on three dimensions of relationship quality (general relationship quality, level of conflict, relationship communication);
(2) there would be no differences between males and females on five dimensions of intimacy (emotional, social, sexual, intellectual, and recreational), or on level of sexual satisfaction;
(3) males would evidence higher levels of sexual behaviour than females and more positive attitudes toward sex;
(4) both intimacy and sexual experiences and attitudes would predict relationship quality and sexual satisfaction.
Respondents were volunteers from the general community (137 males, mean age = 33.4 years; 102 females, mean age = 29.6) who replied to a newspaper advertisement that invited both males and females to take part in a study of sexuality and relationships. All respondents had been involved in a committed heterosexual relationship for at least 12 months, and were drawn primarily from English-speaking backgrounds and from the middle socioeconomic class.
The Personal Assessment of Intimacy in Relationship Scale (PAIR) (Schaefer & Olson, 1981)
The Personal Assessment of Intimacy in Relationship Scale (PAIR) contains 36 items (6 in each scale) which assess: emotional intimacy (e.g., "my partner listens to me when I need someone to talk to"); social intimacy (e.g., "we enjoy spending time with other couples"); sexual intimacy, (e.g., "I feel sexual activity is just a routine"); intellectual intimacy, (e.g., "my partner helps me clarify my thoughts"); recreational intimacy (e.g., "we enjoy the same recreational activities"); and a conventionality scale (e.g., "my partner has all the qualities I've ever wanted in a mate"). Respondents were asked to complete the PAIR in terms of "as my relationship is now." Each item is completed on a five-point Likert scale, and scores for each subscale range from 6-30. The PAIR has a stable factor structure and good internal reliability for each of its subscales (r [is greater than or equal to] 0.70) (Schaefer & Olson, 1981). The item categories and possible range of scores from the PAIR are shown in Table 1.
Table 1 Means and Standard Deviations for Intimacy, Relationship and Sexuality Scales
Sub-scale No of Range Items of Possible Scores Intimacy Emotional intimacy 6 6-30 Social intimacy 6 6-30 Sexual intimacy 6 6-30 Intellectual intimacy 6 6-30 Recreational intimacy 6 6-30 Conventionality 6 6-30 Relationship General relationship 10 0-40 Conflict 10 0-40 Communication 10 0-40 Sexuality Sexual satisfaction 10 0-40 Sexual behaviour 23 23-115 Desire to change physical contact 8 0-35 Own attitude to sex 16 0-64 Partner's attitude to sex 16 0-64 Sexual communication 10 0-40 Sex outside permanent relationship 1 0-4 Own level of sexual dysfunction 3 0-12 Partner's level of sexual dysfunction 3 0-12 Sub-scale Male Scores n=137 Mean SD Intimacy Emotional intimacy 22.04 5.92 Social intimacy 21.36 4.64 Sexual intimacy 21.38 6.54 Intellectual intimacy 22.28 5.25 Recreational intimacy 22.64 4.99 Conventionality 20.32 5.63 Relationship General relationship 32.25 7.37 Conflict 31.88 7.26 Communication 30.05 5.42 Sexuality Sexual satisfaction 35.27 5.44 Sexual behaviour 84.61 19.83 Desire to change physical contact 29.49 4.75 Own attitude to sex 66.83 7.12 Partner's attitude to sex 58.08 11.81 Sexual communication 18.11 1.81 Sex outside permanent relationship 1.86 1.06 Own level of sexual dysfunction 3.35 4.50 Partner's level of sexual dysfunction 4.21 5.06 Sub-scale Female Scores n=102 Mean SD Intimacy Emotional intimacy 22.16 5.87 Social intimacy 21.92 5.08 Sexual intimacy 24.18 4.60 Intellectual intimacy 23.24 5.16 Recreational intimacy 23.15 4.29 Conventionality 19.61 5.28 Relationship General relationship 33.61 6.16 Conflict 31.93 6.56 Communication 29.75 4.44 Sexuality Sexual satisfaction 31.89 5.49 Sexual behaviour 83.16 18.23 Desire to change physical contact 28.18 3.65 Own attitude to sex 61.35 7.09 Partner's attitude to sex 64.82 6.58 Sexual communication 17.46 2.36 Sex outside permanent relationship 1.81 1.86 Own level of sexual dysfunction 3.40 5.23 Partner's level of sexual dysfunction 1.12 3.42 Sub-scale F Intimacy Emotional intimacy Social intimacy Sexual intimacy 13.53(***) Intellectual intimacy Recreational intimacy Conventionality Relationship General relationship Conflict Communication Sexuality Sexual satisfaction 19.56(***) Sexual behaviour Desire to change physical contact 4.75(*) Own attitude to sex 30.97(***) Partner's attitude to sex 23.11(***) Sexual communication 5.32(*) Sex outside permanent relationship Own level of sexual dysfunction Partner's level of sexual dysfunction 24.58(***)
(*) p < 0.05;
(***) p < 0.001
The Sexual Function Scale (SFS) (McCabe, 1998)
The Sexual Function Scale (SFS) is comprised of two groups of subscales: those that relate to the relationship and those that relate to sexual satisfaction and sexuality. All items are scored using a five-point Likert scale. The subscales that relate to the relationship are: general relationship (ten items); conflict (ten items); and communication (ten items). The subscales that relate to sexuality are: sexual satisfaction (ten items); sexual behaviour (23 items); desire to change physical contact (eight behaviours); own attitude to sex (16 items); partner's attitude to sex (16 items); sexual communication (ten items); sex outside permanent relationship (one item); own level of sexual dysfunction (three items); and partner's level of sexual dysfunction (three items). All of these scales have been shown, to be internally consistent (coefficient alpha [is greater than] 0.68) and stable over a six-week period (r [is greater than] 0.89). The item categories and the possible range of scores for the SFS are shown in Table 1.
Respondents were recruited to participate in the study through a newspaper advertisement which called for volunteers to take part in a study of relationships and sexuality. Potential participants called a telephone number to obtain more information about the study. Interested respondents were mailed the PAIR and SFS with a postage-paid reply envelope. Seventy-seven percent of mailed questionnaires were returned. All responses were completed anonymously. Both questionnaires together take about 40 minutes to complete.
The means and standard deviations for all variables measured in the study for both sexes are shown in Table 1. Multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVA) were conducted to determine the nature of differences between males and females on theft levels of intimacy, their relationship quality and their sexuality (F = 5.15, p [is less than] 0.001). With one exception to expectation, the sexes did not differ significantly on the intimacy subscales (Table 1). The exception was that females scored higher than males on the sexual intimacy subscale (F = 13.53, p [is less than] 0.001). Similarly, there were no overall differences between males and females on the three relationship subscales. However, as expected, there were a number of sex differences in response to the sexuality subscales. Males reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction (F=19.56, p [is less than] 0.001), were more likely than females to want an increase in physical contact (F = 4.75, p [is less than] 0.05), had more positive attitudes to sex (F = 30.97, p [is less than] 0.001) and perceived that their partner had more negative attitudes to sex (F = 23.11, p [is less than] 0.001) (Table 1). Males also had higher levels of sexual communication (F = 5.32, p [is less than] 0.05) and perceived that their partners had a higher level of sexual dysfunction than females reported for their partners (F = 24.58, p [is less than] 0.001) (Table 1).
A series of intercorrelations was conducted to determine the nature of the relationships between the intimacy variables and the measures of sexual attitudes and behaviour. There was a strong association between emotional intimacy and the other measures of intimacy (i.e., social, intellectual, and recreational) and conventionality (0.18 [is less than or equal to] r [is less than or equal to] 0.52). However, these correlations were not sufficiently high to indicate redundancy and so none of the intimacy variables were removed from any further analyses. Likewise, the correlations between the measures of sexual attitudes and behaviours were not sufficiently high to remove any variables from subsequent analyses. One of the strongest correlations was between own attitude to sex and perceived partner's attitude to sex (r=.36, p [is less than] 0.001) (see Table 2).
Table 2 Pearson Correlations Between Sexual Attitude and Sexual Behaviour Variables For Males and Females
Own Perceived Sexual Sexual Attitude Partner's Attitude Own sexual attitude 1.00 Perceived partner's sexual attitude 0.36(***) 1.00 Sexual behaviour 0.08 0.12 Sexual dysfunction 0.26 -0.10 Perceived partner's sexual dysfunction -0.22 0.18 Desire to change physical contact -0.17 0.37(***) Sexual communication -0.12 -0.22 Sex outside relationship 0.09 -0.10 Sexual Sexual Behaviour Dysfunction Own sexual attitude Perceived partner's sexual attitude Sexual behaviour 1.00 Sexual dysfunction -0.29 1.00 Perceived partner's sexual dysfunction 0.04 -0.18 Desire to change physical contact -0.07 -0.10 Sexual communication 0.01 -0.16 Sex outside relationship 0.04 0.13 Perceived Desire to Partner's Change Sexual Physical Dysfunction Contact Own sexual attitude Perceived partner's sexual attitude Sexual behaviour Sexual dysfunction Perceived partner's sexual dysfunction 1.00 Desire to change physical contact 0.20 1.00 Sexual communication -0.06 -0.26(*) Sex outside relationship 0.00 -0.21(*) Sexual Extra-Marital Communications Sex Own sexual attitude Perceived partner's sexual attitude Sexual behaviour Sexual dysfunction Perceived partner's sexual dysfunction Desire to change physical contact Sexual communication 1.00 Sex outside relationship -0.08 1.00
(*) p < 0.05;
(***) p < 0.001
The next series of analyses was designed to determine which of the sexual intimacy, sexual attitude, and sexual behaviour variables predicted relationship quality (general quality of relationship, level of conflict, level of relationship communication) and sexual satisfaction. Since there was no theoretical reason to enter the variables in any predetermined order, multiple standard regressions were performed. The intimacy variables in each of the regression analyses were: emotional intimacy, social intimacy, sexual intimacy, intellectual intimacy, and recreational intimacy. An additional dimension, conventionality, was also included in this grouping. The sexual variables in each of the regression analyses were: sexual behaviour, desire to change physical contact, own attitude to sex, perceived partner's attitude to sex, sexual communication, sex outside a permanent relationship, own level of sexual dysfunction, and perceived partner's level of dysfunction. These regressions are reported below. The results of the regressions with females should be treated with some caution, since there were 14 independent variables in the regression equation and only 102 female respondents.
PREDICTION OF GENERAL QUALITY OF RELATIONSHIP SCORE
A standard multiple regression was conducted for both sexes to identify which variables contributed to the prediction of the general quality of relationship score. The predictor variables were the 6 items on the PAIR subscales and the eight sexual attitudes and behaviour subscales outlined above. The results of the regression analyses for males revealed that these variables contributed significantly to the regressive equation, F(14,122) = 4.70, p [is less than] 0.001. Examination of the squared semi-partial correlations revealed that conventionality ([sr.sup.2]=0.04) was the only variable that made a unique contribution to the general relationship score for males. In combination, 35% (adjusted [R.sup.2] =0.35) of the variance in general relationship scores for males was explained by these 14 variables.
These variables also contributed significantly to the regression analysis for females, F(14,87) =: 3.39, p [is less than] 0.01. As with males, examination of the squared semi-partial correlations revealed that conventionality ([sr.sup.2]=0.05) was also the only variable that made a unique contribution to the general relationship variable for females. In combination, 33% (adjusted [R.sup.2]=0.33) of the variance in general relationship scores for females was explained by the 14 variables.
PREDICTION OF CONFLICT SCORE
A standard multiple regression conducted to determine the contribution of these variables to prediction of the conflict score revealed that they contributed significantly to the regression equation for males, F(14,122)=3.00, p [is less than] 0.001. Examination of the squared semi-partial correlations revealed that conventionality ([sr.sup.2]=0.03) and intellectual intimacy ([sr.sup.2]=0.02) both made a unique contribution to the conflict score. In combination, 22% (adjusted [R.sup.2]=0.22) of the variance in the conflict score for males was explained by these 14 variables.
For females, the result of the regression analysis for conflict score was also significant, F(14,87) = 2.44, p [is less than] 0.01. Examination of the squared semi-partial correlations revealed that partner's sexual dysfunction ([sr.sup.2]=0.02) was the only variable which made a unique contribution to the conflict score. In combination, 24% (adjusted [R.sup.2]=0.24) of the variance in the conflict score for females was explained by these 14 variables.
PREDICTION OF RELATIONSHIP COMMUNICATION
A standard multiple regression to determine the contribution of the 14 variables to prediction of communication scores for males showed that they contributed significantly to the regression equation, F(14,122) = 3.74, p [is less than] 0.001. Examination of the squared semi-partial correlations revealed that sexual behaviour ([sr.sup.2]=0.03), conventionality ([sr.sup.2]=0.02) and desire to change physical contact ([sr.sup.2]=0.02) all made a unique contribution to the relationship communication score. In combination, 28% (adjusted [R.sup.2]=0.28) of the variance in the relationship communication score for males was explained by these 14 variables. The result of the regression analysis was also significant for females, F(14,87) = 2.66, p [is less than] 0.01. Examination of the squared semi-partial correlations revealed that sexual behaviour ([sr.sup.2]=0.03) was the only unique contributor to the relationship communication score. In combination, 26% (adjusted [R.sup.2]=0.26) of the variance in the relationship communication score for females was explained by these 14 variables.
PREDICTION OF SEXUAL SATISFACTION
A standard multiple regression, also using the predictor variables of the PAIR subscales and the sexual attitude and behaviour subscales to determine the contribution of the 14 variables to the prediction of sexual satisfaction for males, revealed that they contributed significantly to the regression equation, F(14,122)=2.82, p [is less than] 0.01. Examination of the squared semi-partial correlations showed that the respondent's own level of sexual dysfunction. ([sr.sup.2] =0.04) was the only unique contributor to levels of sexual satisfaction. In combination, 21% (adjusted [R.sup.2]=0.21) of the variance in the sexual satisfaction score for males was explained by these 14 variables.
For females, the result of the regression analysis was also significant, F(14,87)=2.17, p [is less than] 0.05. The respondent's own level of sexual dysfunction ([sr.sup.2]=0.02) was the only variable to make a unique contribution to the sexual satisfaction score. In combination, 20% (adjusted [R.sup.2]=0.20) of the variance in the sexual satisfaction score for females was explained by these 14 variables.
This study found only one difference between males and females on their self-reported levels of intimacy and relationship functioning; females reported higher levels of sexual intimacy than males. In other respects, the results were consistent with the initial hypothesis that there would be no sex differences in these variables. The finding in relation to sexual intimacy is particularly surprising given the observed gender differences in relation to sexuality (discussed below). Although past findings have claimed that females are more focussed on the interpersonal aspects of the relationship than males (e.g., Hatfield et al, 1988), the present study found that these dimensions of the relationship were equally high for both sexes. However, the fact that the scores reflecting experience of intimacy showed little or no gender difference overall does not necessarily mean that intimacy was equally valued by both sexes. It is possible that females place greater value on intimacy, and it is this emphasis on intimacy that has been detected in previous studies rather than an actual difference in the experience of intimacy.
Similar explanations may apply to the findings with regard to relationship scores, which showed no gender differences in the levels of conflict, communication, or general functioning of the relationship. Although gender differences were not detected in these relationship variables, females may value a good relationship more than males. Future studies should be designed to investigate both the satisfaction with intimacy and satisfaction with relationship variables, as well as the importance of these variables within a relationship, to determine the relative emphasis placed on these variables by males and females.
Surprisingly, there were no gender differences in the reported occurrence of sexual behaviours within the relationship. However, the findings showed that males were more likely than females to report higher levels of sexual satisfaction; to desire a higher level of sexual, experience; to talk with their partners more about sex; to report more positive attitudes to sex; to rate their partners' attitude toward sex as more negative than their own; and to assign a higher level of sexual dysfunction to their partners. These findings are consistent with past studies that found that males place a higher emphasis in a relationship on sexual activities than do females (e.g., Patton & Waring, 1985; Rubin, 1983).
Although these results seem to suggest that sexual variables may more strongly predict the relationship variables (i.e., relationship functioning, conflict, communication, and sexual satisfaction) for males than for females, overall, this was not the case. Level of sexual behaviour was a strong predictor of communication in the relationship for both males and females,, with desire to change levels of sexual behaviours also being a predictor for males. Levels of sexual dysfunction were important predictors of sexual satisfaction for both males and females, with level of sexual intimacy being an additional predictor for females. Although the variables which predicted the different measures of relationship functioning varied, the variables which predicted these measures were substantially the same for male and females. These results are consistent with past findings (e.g. Cupach & Comstock, 1990), although no prior studies have directly evaluated the interrelationships assessed, in this study.
Intimacy and sexual attitudes and experiences had a less significant impact than expected on the quality of the relationship. Past research suggested that there would be a strong association between intimacy and the quality of the relationship (Acker & Davis, 1992) and between sexual attitudes and experiences and relationship functioning and sexual satisfaction (Apt et al., 1996; Cupach & Comstock, 1990; Henderson-King & Veroff, 1994). Although the intimacy and sexual variables included in the current study significantly predicated general relationship satisfaction, conflict, communication, and sexual satisfaction, the amount of variance explained by the variables was not as high as anticipated. Since these variables are thought to be central to relationship functioning, one would expect more than 20-33% of the variance in these variables to be explained by the intimacy and sexuality scores. While the sample size was smaller than desired, the results suggest that other variables may be at play which can also impact on relationship quality and sexual satisfaction. Examples of such variables may be stress (from work, children, major life events, daily hassles), fatigue and other positive and negative emotional states. Further studies with a larger sample size should include the impact of such variables on relationship functioning and sexual satisfaction.
Since respondents to the present study were drawn from the general community, and not from university students or clinical populations, it was anticipated that the results may be generalizable to a broader section of the population. While the small sample size compromised the power of the statistical analysis, the findings demonstrate the importance of examining specific dimensions of interpersonal constructs rather than relying on global measures of them. Although global constructs can explain some of the variance in relationship quality and sexual satisfaction, the inclusion of specific variables also allows the unique contribution of each of these variable to be evaluated. By considering separate dimensions of intimacy and sexual functioning, it is possible to obtain a clearer understanding of the way in which these separate constructs are related to relationship functioning. A next step in such investigations would be to determine the influence of the constructs in women and men from various cultural and social backgrounds, and in individuals at different stages of their relationships.
Correspondence concerning this paper should be addressed to Marita P. McCabe, PhD, FAPS, School of Psychology, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria, Australia 3125. Tel.: +61 3 9244 6843; fax.: +61 3 9244 6858; email: email@example.com.
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Marita P. McCabe School of Psychology Deakin University Victoria, Australia
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|Author:||McCabe, Marita P.|
|Publication:||The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
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