Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 8, pp 2353–2364 | Cite as

Sexual Closeness Discrepancies: What They Are and Why They Matter for Sexual Well-Being in Romantic Relationships

  • David M. FrostEmail author
  • Sara I. McClelland
  • Miranda Dettmann
Original Paper


This study examined the impact of sexual closeness on sexual well-being. We developed a nuanced and multifaceted conceptualization of sexual closeness in the form of a constellation of ideal sexual closeness with a partner, actual sexual closeness, and the discrepancy between the two. Data were obtained from a diverse sample of N = 619 participants who took part in the Lives and Relationships Study: A longitudinal survey of men and women in relationships living in the U.S. and Canada. Increases in sexual closeness discrepancies over a period of 1 year predicted concomitant decreases in two indicators of sexual well-being: sexual satisfaction and orgasm frequency evaluations. Decreases in sexual closeness discrepancies resulted in improvement in sexual well-being. Individuals who reported no sexual closeness discrepancies and experienced no changes in sexual closeness discrepancies tended to have the highest levels of sexual well-being. Importantly, sexual closeness discrepancies were robust predictors of sexual well-being, above and beyond individuals’ actual sexual closeness, general relationship closeness, and other demographic and relationship characteristics known to be associated with sexual well-being. The present findings demonstrate that how close people feel sexually to their relationship partners is part of a general constellation of factors related to relationship closeness that, only when considered together, sufficiently explain the ways in which experiences of closeness impact sexual well-being in romantic relationships.


Sexual satisfaction Orgasm Closeness discrepancies Self-expansion theory 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

David Frost declares that he has no conflict of interest. Sara McClelland declares that she has no conflict of interest. Miranda Dettmann declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • David M. Frost
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sara I. McClelland
    • 2
  • Miranda Dettmann
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Psychological Sciences, School of PsychologyUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK
  2. 2.Departments of Women’s Studies and PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public HealthColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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