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It’s Not the Size of the Boat, It’s the Motion of Your Notions

Most of us know that sexual compatibility plays an important role in how satisfied we feel with our romantic relationships. What most of us don’t know, however, is that there are actually two types of sexual compatibility: perceived sexual compatibility (how sexually compatible we think we are with our partners) and actual sexual compatibility (how sexually compatible we actually are with our partners). New research has enhanced our understanding of both types of sexual compatibility, along with their implications for partners’ sexual and relationship satisfaction.

In one recent study,1 both partners of 133 romantic couples filled out surveys that asked about their sexual satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, perceived sexual compatibility, and actual sexual compatibility. Both men and women’s perceived sexual compatibility better predicted their sexual and relationship satisfaction than did their actual sexual compatibility. In other words, two partners who think they’re sexually compatible will likely experience higher satisfaction than two partners who do not, regardless of how sexually compatible they actually are.

These findings complement other research2,3 that shows that our perceptions of reality are often more important than our actual reality. In this way, these findings further validate methods used in couples counseling that focus on remedying differences in each partner’s perceptions of one another rather than on their actual differences.

1Mark, K. P., Milhausen, R. R., & Maitland, S. B. (2013). The impact of sexual compatibility on sexual and relationship satisfaction in a sample of young adult heterosexual couples. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 28(3), 201-214.

2Etcheverry, P. E., Le, B., & Charania, M. R. (2008). Perceived versus reported social referent approval and romantic relationship commitment and persistence. Personal Relationships, 15, 281-295.

3Uchino, B. N. (2004). Social support and physical health: Understanding the health consequences of our relationships. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Olive Light recently graduated from Emerson College with a degree in Marketing Communications and a minor in Psychology. She’s fascinated by psychology and the insights it offers into consumer behavior.




Dr. Lindsey Beck - Science of Relationships articles | Website
Dr. Beck’s research examines how people initiate and develop close relationships, including why some people—but not others—choose to avoid situations that would help them form relationships, how partners ask for and offer support as they develop relationships, and how couples respond to stressful situations in newly-formed relationships.

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