What Does Network Analysis Reveal About Sexual and Relationship Satisfaction for Men and Women?

An elderly couple appear with the man hugging the woman over the shoulders.

Network analysis is a way to assess the relationships among multiple variables at one time. It allows a person to see whether or not certain variables have a connection, and if so, how strong or weak that connection may be.

In an interesting new study, researchers used network analysis to evaluate several variables related to sexual satisfaction and/or relationship satisfaction for a group of 1,434 partnered cisgender men and 1,434 partnered cisgender women. Data about the participants was collected from a Finnish population-based study called the Genetics of Sex and Aggression (GSA).

Using information from the GSA and a network analysis program, the authors of the study created and compared two different networks: one that showed the connections among different sexual and relationship variables for men, and one that showed the connections among these variables for women.

In terms of sexuality, the authors chose to assess the following variables: sexual satisfaction, sexual pleasure, sexual desire, sexual inhibition, sexual excitation, sexual distress, frequency of sexual activity, and having less sex than one would like. The relationship variables included in the analysis were: relationship satisfaction, sexual communication, relationship duration, and whether the participants had children or not. Finally, a few additional variables that the authors thought were relevant to include were: intrasexual competition (competing with members of the same sex for members of the opposite sex), sociosexual orientation, jealousy, tendency to engage in extrapair sexual activity, own mate value (estimated attractiveness), partner’s mate value, body dissatisfaction, and genital dissatisfaction.

In the end, the network models created for the men and the women did not differ significantly from one another. Each network had 52 connections between variables, and many of these occurred for both men and women. To the authors, these findings suggest that men and women are quite similar in terms of psychological traits when it comes to relationship and sexual satisfaction.

For both men and women, sexual and relationship satisfaction were positively related to sexual pleasure and sexual communication, while negatively related to sexual distress. The most central variable in the network for men was sexual satisfaction. For women, the most central variable in the network was sexual desire. The networks for both men and women had frequency of sexual activity as a central variable.

These results indicate that sexual and relationship satisfaction are indeed closely related because they share many of the same common variables. What’s more, men and women do not appear to differ significantly in terms of variables associated with satisfaction in these areas of their lives, which could be an important learning for those in couple or sex therapy.


Nickull, S., Källström, M., & Jern, P. (2022). An Exploratory Network Analysis of Sexual and Relationship Satisfaction Comparing Partnered Cisgendered Men and Women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine19(5), 711-718. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2022.02.006

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