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Why you should tell your romantic partner about any sexual problems you are experiencing

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New research published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy highlights the importance of communicating with your partner about distressing sexual problems.

More than 9 of 10 participants in the study of 277 younger women (18 to 45 years old) reported experiencing multiple sexual problems. About 70 percent of these women said they had talked to their current romantic partner about these problems.

The researchers found that women who disclosed their sexual problems reported fewer depressive symptoms, better sexual functioning, and greater relationship satisfaction compared to the women who kept it a secret from their partner.

Two of the authors of the study, Kathleen E. Merwin and Natalie O. Rosen of Dalhousie University, spoke to PsyPost about the research. Read their explanation below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Merwin and Rosen: We became interested in this topic when we were discussing differences between how women and men might talk about their sexual problems. It occurred to us that women’s sexual problems – such as difficulties with desire, arousal, orgasm, or pain – might actually be easier to “hide” from a partner than say, men’s problems with an erection or ejaculation. In other words, women might have more of a choice in whether or when they tell their partner about a sexual problem. Yet very little was known about how many women tell their partners about their sexual problems, and the potential consequences of sharing (or not sharing) this information.

We know that sexual communication in general — such as discussing sexual likes and dislikes with a partner — tends to be beneficial for both the sexual and romantic relationship. We were interested in how many women with sexual problems actually tell their partners, and how this disclosure might relate to women’s psychological, sexual, and relationship well-being.

What should the average person take away from your study?

We found that (1) most women (about 70% of our sample of over 270) experiencing sexual problems tell their partners about it and (2) that those who tell their partners also report fewer depressive symptoms, greater sexual functioning, and greater satisfaction with their romantic relationship (compared to women who reported not telling their partner about their sexual problems).

The key takeaway is that telling your romantic partner about any sexual problems that you are experiencing – especially if you are feeling distressed by the problems – may be beneficial for your psychological, sexual, and relationship well-being.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

Our study design did not allow us to get at the direction of these associations between disclosing sexual problems and well-being; it is also possible that women with fewer depressive symptoms, greater sexual functioning, and those who are more satisfied with their relationship are more likely to tell their partner about any sexual problems they are experiencing. Further research is needed to assess the direction of these associations.

Another important thing to consider is why women tell their partners about sexual problems, and how their partner responds to this disclosure. Women’s reasons for telling their partner about a sexual problem may impact whether this disclosure is beneficial or detrimental to women’s well-being. Further, how the partner responds (e.g., with empathy, frustration, offers to help) will certainly affect the couples’ coping and management of the problem.

Finally, our study focused only on women’s sexual problems, but future studies might also look at how men first share their sexual difficulties with a partner.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

For more information on sexual and relationship research going on at Dalhousie University, visit: http://natalieorosen.com/ or check out our twitter: @DalCashLab or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rosenlab/

In addition to Merwin and Rosen, the study “We Need to Talk: Disclosure of Sexual Problems Is Associated With Depression, Sexual Functioning, and Relationship Satisfaction in Women” was also co-authored by Lucia F. O’Sullivan. The study was published January 20, 2017.

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