What’s With Sexual Satisfaction, Anyway?

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As a sex researcher who studies the satisfaction side of sex, I've got reasons for why pleasure should be a priority.

Kristen's MSc Thesis Text Wordle

Photo: Kristen Mark Wordle

The larger the word, the more it appeared in Kristen's masters thesis.

As a sex researcher who primarily studies the satisfaction side of sex, I’m often asked why studying sexual satisfaction matters. The arguments I often hear from curious ones tend to have to do with the importance of continued focus on disease prevention and reproductive health. This argument is an understandable one, considering our society is still plagued with unacceptable rates of STIs, unwanted pregnancies, and HIV transmission. That work is incredibly important and there are some brilliant researchers in the field of sexual health working on these things. But there is a lot more to sexual health research than disease prevention.

What About Pleasure?

So, what about the pleasure side of sex? I’m all about sex positivity, and my research certainly shows that by researching topics such as orgasm, desire, relationship and sexual satisfaction, and event-level sexual quality. So, why does this matter?

Well…it is directly related to relationship satisfaction, it produces oxytocin, and it promotes overall life satisfaction. Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it?

Relationship Satisfaction

First of all, scientists have long supported the intertwined nature of sexual and relationship satisfaction. Less clear is the causal direction of this relationship, which I have blogged about here. We don’t really know what comes first…the sexual satisfaction or the relationship satisfaction. I think it depends on the dynamics of the relationship…but that’s just my opinion…I haven’t shown it through science (yet).

So, sexual satisfaction is important in keeping your relationship satisfaction high. Thus, if you want your relationship to endure over time, you’d better keep your relationship satisfaction high. If you want to keep your relationship satisfaction high, you’d better keep your sexual satisfaction high. Simple, right?

Oxytocin

Another important reason sexual satisfaction is crucial – oxytocin. Do you know how important oxytocin is yet? It is a pretty powerful biochemical that is released from the pituitary gland when we experience pleasure (among other things). It’s been linked to overall health and well-being and has the ability to produce the effects we associate with the states of calm and connection. Simply put, when we are sexually satisfied, we tend to have higher levels of oxytocin in our bodies.

Life Satisfaction

A more general benefit of maintaining sexual satisfaction is that it is related to overall life satisfaction. A lot of the work I do is taken from a system perspective…looking at the whole as greater than the sum of its parts…Gestalt style. I’m usually applying this to looking at couples rather than individuals, but in this case, the same approach can be used to argue that sexual satisfaction is one piece of overall life satisfaction. I think it is just as important to strive to be satisfied in life as it is to avoid being dissatisfied.

So, these are some of the reasons why I take the satisfaction point of view in my research and writing. Work to keep your sexual satisfaction high, whether with a partner or on your own, it’s important!

Kristen Mark, PhD, MPH

completed her PhD in Health Behavior and her MPH in Biostatistics, both at Indiana University. Kristen is an Assistant Professor in Health Promotion at University of Kentucky. Kristen's research focuses on sexual pleasure, sexuality in long term relationships, sexual function, and women's sexuality.
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