Despite a large body of empirical literature on sexual satisfaction, its development over the course of a relationship is still unclear. Only a small number of studies, most of which have relied on cross-sectional data of convenience samples, have explicitly focused on relationship duration, and empirical evidence is mixed. We analyzed how sexual satisfaction changes over the course of a relationship using three waves of the German Family Panel study (pairfam). We concentrated our analyses on young and middle-aged heterosexual individuals in committed relationships (N = 2,814) and applied fixed effects regression models, which have the advantage of estimations based on changes within individuals over time. We found a positive development of sexual satisfaction in the first year of a relationship, followed by a steady decline. This pattern persisted even when controlling for the frequency of intercourse, although the effects were, in part, mediated by intercourse frequency. We explained the non-linear effect of relationship duration on sexual satisfaction with an initial learning effect regarding partner-specific sexual skills, which is then outweighed by a decline in passion at later stages of a relationship. Moreover, we found significant effects for the control variables of health status, intimacy in couple communication, and conflict style, as expected. In contrast to past research, however, cohabitation and marriage were not found to play a role for sexual satisfaction in our data. Further research is required to deepen the understanding of the reasons why sexual satisfaction changes with relationship duration.
Keywords: Intimacy; Learning effect; Panel analysis; Relationship duration; Sexual satisfaction.