A new Journal of Sexual Medicine study has examined the effects of partner responses on women with female sexual interest/arousal disorder (FSIAD).
Positive, supportive partner responses are associated with better couple adjustment than negative responses, researchers report.
While women may experience FSIAD differently, the most typical symptoms include feeling little sexual desire and having trouble becoming physically aroused. Women may not have sexual thoughts or fantasies. They may not initiate sexual encounters or respond when their partner tries to initiate sex. Overall, the situation causes great distress.
Past research suggests that FSIAD is more frequent in partnered women. However, studies of FSIAD have not generally focused on interpersonal aspects or considered the role of partners. The current study investigated FSIAD in the context of couples over a period of one year.
Researchers recruited 89 couples who had been in a committed relationship for at least six months. One member of each couple was diagnosed with FSIAD based on DSM-5 criteria and a clinical interview. The participants’ average age was 30 years. Eighty-one partners were male, seven were female, and one was intersex.
Separately, each member of the couple completed assessments on sexual difficulties, desire, satisfaction, and distress. They also completed questionnaires on their relationship satisfaction and anxiety levels.
One year later, the 66 couples who remained in the study were evaluated again with the same tools.
In particular, the women with FSIAD reported on their perceptions of their partners’ responses to their situation. Partners indicated their actual responses.
Women were more likely to be satisfied with their relationships when they perceived their partners to be “warm” and “understanding” rather than “hostile” or “pessimistic.” In these circumstances, both the women and their partners had less anxiety.
“Such responses create a more secure relational environment and may buffer against the perceived threat to the relationship created by FSIAD, helping temper associated feelings of anxiety for both partners,” the study authors explained.
Partners were also more satisfied with their relationships and sex – and had lower stress and anxiety – when their responses were positive.
Still, when the researchers compared the two time points, “partner responses did not predict change in well-being over time for either partner.” Instead, improvements might have occurred because of self-help resources offered and the experience of being in the study, which might have brought both partners closer together.
The findings may be helpful in developing psychological interventions for couples facing FSIAD, the authors said.
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Rosen, Natalie O., PhD, et al.
“Partner Responses to Low Desire: Associations With Sexual, Relational, and Psychological Well-Being Among Couples Coping With Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder”
(Full-text. Published: September 22, 2020)