When Are Sexual Difficulties Distressing for Women? The Selective Protective Value of Intimate Relationships

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Introduction.Recent studies have shown that sexual functioning and sexually related personal distress are weakly related in women, with only a minority of sexual difficulties resulting in significant levels of distress. However, there has been little systematic research to date on which factors moderate the relationship between sexual functioning and sexual distress.Aim.To assess the degree to which relational intimacy and attachment anxiety moderate the association between sexual functioning and sexual distress in college-age women.Methods.Two hundred women (mean age = 20.25) completed surveys assessing sexual functioning, relational intimacy, attachment anxiety, and sexual distress.Main Outcome Measures.Participants completed the Sexual Satisfaction Scale for Women, the Female Sexual Function Index, the Dimensions of Relationship Quality Scale, and the Revised Experiences in Close Relationships Measure of Adult Romantic Attachment.Results.Relational intimacy and attachment anxiety moderated the association between multiple aspects of sexual functioning and sexual distress. For lubrication and sexual pain, functioning was more strongly associated with distress in low-intimacy vs. high-intimacy relationships, but only for women with high levels of attachment anxiety. Results regarding desire were mixed and neither intimacy nor attachment anxiety interacted with subjective arousal or orgasm in predicting distress.Conclusion.Both relational intimacy and attachment anxiety are important moderators of the association between sexual functioning and subjective sexual distress in women. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed. Stephenson KR, and Meston CM. When are sexual difficulties distressing for women? The selective protective value of intimate relationships. J Sex Med 2010;7:3683–3694.

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