Wanting to communicate better is one of the most common issues couples navigate in their relationships. Even when couples don’t list communication as a concern, experts and therapists often lean on the advice that all relationships could benefit from us opening up, talking more, and asking instead of assuming.
And for good reason. Not only does communication bring people in relationships closer together by helping us understand each others’ inner thoughts, feelings, and emotions; communication in general, and sexual communication, in particular, can increase our positive feelings about our relationship, our sex life, and even increase our sexual pleasure.
So just how important is sexual communication when it comes to sexual and relationship satisfaction exactly? The sexual science is loud and clear on this one: Very.
Communication Is Associated with Sexual Satisfaction
First things first: In the field of sex research, sexual communication is frequently found to be associated in some way with sexual and relationship satisfaction.
As just one example, in a very large study recently published in the Journal of Sex Research, Dr. Fredrick and colleagues explored how couples maintain passion and sexual satisfaction as relationships become longer-term. They recruited 38,747 men and women in relationships of at least three years duration.
The researchers’ findings suggest that sexual satisfaction and sexual passion were higher among people who reported having more frequent sex, receiving more oral sex, having more consistent orgasms, incorporating more variety of sexual acts into their sexual routines, focusing on setting the mood, and those who reported engaging in open sexual communication.
Sexual Communication Facilitates More Sexual Satisfaction
But sexual communication is not simply part of a laundry list of factors that is related to sexual satisfaction. Researchers have also homed in on sexual communication directly to determine the degree to which it predicts sexual satisfaction.
In one study of 133 college-aged heterosexual couples (total sample of 266 men and women), Dr. Kristen Mark and Dr. Kristen Jozkowski explored how satisfied couples were in their relationships based on their reported levels of sexual and non sexual communication.
The authors’ results suggest that couples’ level of relationship satisfaction was positively related to their level of sexual and nonsexual communication, which, in turn, was positively associated with their degree of sexual satisfaction. In other words, couples who reported being more satisfied in their romantic relationships reported communicating more often and more effectively (whether it be about their day or about sex) and, as a result, this lead to higher reported levels of sexual satisfaction.
Verbal Versus Non-Verbal Communication
Of course, the way in which we communicate varies and communication is not always explicit. We know the feeling when our partner rolls their eyes versus when their eyes light up at one of our stories. So what does the sex research say about communication style with regards to how it impacts our sexual satisfaction?
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In a study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, researchers explored verbal and non-verbal communication among 398 men and women (aged 18-55). The authors were interested in how one’s own and one’s partner’s use of verbal and nonverbal communication during sex was associated with sexual satisfaction, and how satisfaction with sexual communication (whether it be verbal or non-verbal) might be associated with sexual satisfaction.
The results suggest that neither mode of communication was more predictive of sexual satisfaction. Rather, the authors reported that a couples’ level of satisfaction with their communication style during sex (whether that be verbal or non-verbal) was more important to their sexual satisfaction than either communication style.
Talking About the Hard Stuff
Talking about sex can be challenging or awkward for many of us, but when sexual problems occur (like pain, erectile difficulties, premature ejaculation or low desire), talking about sex may be even more critical for our overall well-being and our sexual satisfaction.
As just one example, researchers explored sexual communication in a sample of 107 couples in which the woman was diagnosed with experiencing regular pain during intercourse (specifically Provoked vestibulodynia, or PVD).4 The authors gave women and their partners several questionnaires about pain, communication, satisfaction, sexual functioning, and depressive symptoms.
The results suggest that when women and their partner perceived that they engaged in better sexual communication they also experienced greater sexual satisfaction, greater sexual functioning, and lower depressive symptoms. Further, when a woman’s partner perceived higher levels of sexual communication in the relationship, this was found to be related to women’s lower pain and greater sexual satisfaction.