Linking exercise and sexual satisfaction among healthy adults.

Author:Marshall, Alexandra


Continued quality of life across the lifespan is the universal ideal for most people. The decline of biologic, cognitive, and social factors makes the concept of aging less appealing (Branch, Katz, & Kniepman, 1984). Specifically, one of the most unappealing factors related to aging is the decline in sexual functioning in people of both sexes (Masters & Johnson, 1970). For males, such loss has been related to erectile competence (Gupta et al., 2011), while the loss for females has been linked to untreated menopausal conditions and decreased social opportunities (Addis et al., 2006). Both genders report a desire for increased sexual activity. In other words, what they currently report about their sexuality is unsatisfying (Rosen et al., 2009).

One of the most important factors contributing to quality of life for adults is sexuality (Robinson & Molzahn, 2007; Gelfand, 2000). Sexuality is consistently defined to include numerous interrelated factors such as biological, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and sociocultural components (Johnson, 1998). Combined, these factors may improve healthy sexuality and overall quality of life for adults. Sexuality is a major aspect of relational intimacy and incorporates sexual health indicators such as sexual performance and sexual satisfaction (Penhollow, Young, & Denny, 2009).

Research has shown an improvement in sexual health indicators among adults, particularly unhealthy adults, such as those who suffer from obesity, COPD, dyspareunia, or erectile dysfunction, as a result of increased physical activity. For example, Dabrowska, Drosdzol, Skrzypulec and Plinta (2010) demonstrated that females with and without sexual dysfunction improved on sexual performance scores related to participation in physical activity. Research by the National Institutes of Health indicates that most cases of ED are a result of several conditions such as heart disease which impairs healthy blood flow to the penis and diabetes which impacts genital nerve function (Esposito, et al., 2004). A Harvard study of 22,086 men showed that those who exercised vigorously 30 minutes per day were two and a half times less likely to suffer from ED as compared to men who had limited exercise/PA (Bacon, Mittleman, Kawachi, Glasser, & Rimm, 2006).

However, little research has examined the relationship in sexual performance or sexual satisfaction as a result of physical activity among a broad population of healthy adults. One study by Meston (2000) addressed exercise/PA and only the female sexual response; findings from the study demonstrated that vigorous physical exercise/PA activated the woman's sexual response. Another study by Penhollow and Young (2004) showed that specifically college-aged adults indicated that above average levels of fitness improved perceptions of sexual performance and sexual desirability. Bortz and Wallace (1999) demonstrated that improved fitness showed a strong positive correlation for sexual satisfaction among men.

The current study contributed to the literature by examining the relationship in sexual satisfaction as a result of exercise/PA among healthy adults. It was of particular interest to explore the relationship between frequency, intensity, duration, and mode of exercise/PA and sexual satisfaction of both men and women ages 18 to 74. The researchers identified four different exercise/PA performance indicators (i.e. frequency, intensity, duration and mode) that were associated with self-reported levels of improved sexual satisfaction.

While practitioners often speak about how exercise can reduce problems, such as managing Type II diabetes (Kashfi, Jeihooni, Rezaianzedeh, & Amini, 2012) or alleviating stress (Koplas, Shilling & Harper, 2012), it is important for health care providers/practitioners to consider the holistic benefits of exercise. The Health Belief Model (HBM) provides a conceptual framework for understanding a patient/client's perceived benefits as it relates to the adoption of healthy behavior (Glanz, Rimer, & Viswanath, 2008). Individuals conduct an internal cost-benefit analysis of the new behavior to determine if the perceived benefits of the behavior outweigh the barriers of performing the behavior (Glanz, Rimer, & Viswanath, 2008).

Practitioners may need to identify the value placed on sexual function and sexual satisfaction among healthy adults. If sexual function and satisfaction are indeed highly valued as perceived benefits of exercise that will outweigh their perceived barriers to exercise, seeking such a reward may be the encouragement many adults need to start or to increase their participation in regular exercise. By being able to potentially determine exercise/PA indicators that are related to improvement in sexuality, practitioners may be more likely to identify exercises/PA that promote healthy sexual function and satisfaction among healthy adults. This may lead to longer lasting, more satisfying relationships and higher quality of life overall.

The purpose of the study was to explore and determine the possible link between different components of exercise/PA and markers of sexual satisfaction. If such a connection can be established, this will provide some initial evidence to support that exercise/PA behavior can be utilized as a perceived benefit within the HBM framework to promote the adoption of other healthy lifestyle characteristics.

Specific questions addressed in this study were: 1) Is mode of exercise/PA related to self-reported levels of sexual satisfaction? 2) Is there a link between exercise/PA duration and sexual satisfaction? 3) Does level of exercise/PA intensity influence sexual satisfaction? 4) Is there a link between exercise/PA frequency and sexual satisfaction?

The researchers developed four hypotheses that were addressed based on the proposed research questions and findings from previous studies. The specific hypotheses that were explored in this study are as follows: 1) Levels of sexual satisfaction will be significantly higher among adults who report higher frequency levels of exercise/PA as compared to adults who report lower frequency levels of exercise/PA. 2) Levels of sexual satisfaction will be significantly related among adults who participate in aerobic exercise/PA as compared to adults who participate in other modes (i.e., strength training, sports, and recreation) of exercise/PA. 3) Levels of sexual satisfaction will be significantly higher among adults who participate in higher levels of exercise/PA duration as compared to adults who participate lower levels of exercise/PA duration. 4) Levels of sexual satisfaction will be significantly higher among adults who participate in higher intensity levels of exercise/PA as compared to adults who participate in lower intensity levels of exercise/PA.


Research Design

The non-experimental research design for this study was conducted using quantitative methods by collecting data through the use of an online self-report survey. The data collected were used to provide descriptive and correlational analyses regarding the interaction between exercise/PA and sexual satisfaction. This approach was selected primarily for two reasons: 1) to achieve a higher level of confidentiality and anonymity regarding a sensitive topic (i.e., exercise/PA and sexuality), and 2) to achieve larger sample size by using a self-selected sample and a self-report survey.

Given the context of the study, this research design allowed the researchers to collect sensitive data on subjects with greater protection of the subjects' privacy, without threatening the reliability of the study design. Researchers (Ritter, Lorig, Laurent, & Matthews, 2004; Gosling, Vazire, Srivastava, & John, 2004) have demonstrated that internet samples are shown to be relatively diverse with respect to gender, socioeconomic status, geographic region, and age. Moreover, internet findings generalized across presentation formats are reliable, and are not adversely affected by non-serious or repeat responders, and are consistent with findings from traditional methods (Basnov, Kongsved, Bech, & Hjollund, 2009; Kongsved, Basnov, Holm-Christensen, & Hjollund, 2007). Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that Internet methods may contribute toward many areas of behavioral studies...

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