This post is written by:
Graduate Student in Clinical Psychology
Women: Do you think you’re sexy? The answer may be more important than you think.
A recent article published in the Journal of Family Psychology by Meltzer and McNulty describes a study that investigated how a woman’s body image affects her marital relationship. Previous research has already shown that indeed, women who have a more positive body image tend to experience higher relationship satisfaction than women with poor body image. The reason is this:
1. Women with high self-esteem tend to be more confident that their partner accepts them and is committed to them, so they feel more comfortable taking “emotional risks.” Emotional risks include sharing intimate thoughts and desires.
2. Women that take more emotional risks are more likely to remain happy in their relationships because they tend to feel closer to their partners.
3. Women with positive body image tend to also take more emotional risks. For example, women with positive body image engage in more sexual behavior. Why? Because they fear sexual rejection less than women with poor body image, so they desire, initiate, and engage in sex more often.
4. Couples that have sex frequently tend to have more sexual satisfaction than couples that do not have sex very often.
5. Higher sexual satisfaction tends to lead to higher relationship or marital satisfaction.
Then, what does this new study have to say? The authors basically identified what specific aspect of body image is responsible for this increase (or decrease) in women’s sexual satisfaction. The authors divided body image into three things: sexual attractiveness, physical condition, and weight concern. After giving more than 50 couples several questionnaires, the authors found that how a woman perceived herself sexually—that is, how sexually attractive she believed she was, was the only component of body image that affected marital satisfaction. So, it goes like this: 1. A woman thinks she is sexually attractive, so 2. She feels more confident about having sex with her husband (perhaps more often), so 3. The couple enjoys more sexual satisfaction, so 4. They are also more satisfied with their marriage in general.
Another important finding to note: Wives’ perceived sexual attractiveness ultimately affects not only their own marital satisfaction, but their husband’s, too. In fact, wives’ perceptions of their sexual attractiveness accounted for 6 percent of their husband’s marital satisfaction and 19 percent of their own marital satisfaction.
Moral of the story: In assessing your own marital issues, you may consider thinking about your sexual relationship. Wives, how confident are you in your sexual attractiveness? If you tend to have negative feelings, such as shame or dissatisfaction, with your body, you may be more anxious about sex. As shown in this study, this anxiety can ultimately lead to reduced sexual satisfaction, and ultimately less marital satisfaction for both of you.
Meltzer, A. L. & McNulty, J. K. (2010). Body Image and Marital Satisfaction: Evidence for the Mediating Role of Sexual Frequency and Sexual Satisfaction. Journal of Family Psychology, 24, 156-164.