When it comes to what couples do between the sheets, a new study from the University of Waterloo says men and women in relationships are pretty good at telling when their partners are sexually satisfied.

The study, published in this month's Archives of Sexual Behavior, surveyed 84 couples from Waterloo Region who were either married or living together as if they were married for two years. 

Each were separated and asked to report on their levels of commitment, relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, sexual communication and had their ability to recognize different emotions measured.

Erin Fallis, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the university and one of the study’s main researchers, says on average both men and women have a fairly accurate and unbiased perception of their partner’s sexual satisfaction. Researchers reported that partner perceptions of sexual satisfaction correlated strongly with self reports.  

“There are certainly some of those stereotypes that can come up that maybe couples don’t do a good job talking about sexual issues or it’s really hard for men and women to understand each other,” said Fallis.

“One thing that was kind of nice about our results is that they give a bit of evidence that suggests it isn’t as hard for men and women to understand each other as stereotypes might suggest.”

Couples tend to adopt sexual scripts

Another finding in the study was that couples develop so-called “sexual scripts”.

Fallis says these are general guidelines or routines around sexual encounters such as the time and place couples will normally have sex or the types of sexual behaviour they will engage in.

“How that ties into our research is we thought that being able to gauge your partner’s sexual satisfaction would be helpful for people in deciding ‘are we going to stick with what we’re doing? Or might it be useful to try something new?’” said Fallis.

Fallis added the advice she would give to couples based on the study’s findings is that clear communication is vital for a healthy and fulfilling sexual relationship.

“Discussing things like your sexual likes and dislikes with your partner can be really helpful and benefit people’s sexual satisfaction,” said Fallis. “Sometimes that can be a difficult topic for couples to discuss so even just trying to work towards that or open the door on that could be helpful.”