The associations of intimacy and sexuality in daily life: Temporal dynamics and gender effects within romantic relationships

Jacques van Lankveld*, Nele Jacobs, Viviane Thewissen, Marieke Dewitte, Peter Verboon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The experience of emotional intimacy is assumed to play a particularly large role in maintaining sexual desire and partnered sexual activity in romantic relationships of longer duration. It is unclear whether the effect of intimacy on sexual contact between partners is direct or indirect, via its impact on sexual desire. Baumeister and Bratslavsky suggested that a certain increment in emotional intimacy causes a greater increment in sexual desire in men than in women. In the present study, we aimed to test the mediating role of sexual desire between perceived intimacy and sexual partner interaction and the gender effect as hypothesized by Baumeister and Bratslavsky. Experience sampling methodology in the participant's natural environment was used. At 10 quasi-random moments per day, during 7 consecutive days, 134 participants reported their feelings of emotional intimacy, sexual desire, and sexual activity. The direct effect of intimacy on sexual partner interaction was not significant, but an indirect effect via sexual desire was observed. The strength of the association between intimacy and sexual desire diminished over time, from the strongest effect when intimacy, sexual desire, and sexual activity were measured simultaneously to a very small, but significant effect at an average time lag of 3 hr. At still larger time gaps, no effects were found. Men reported a higher average level of sexual desire than women, but the strength of the link between (increases in) intimacy and sexual desire was not different between the genders. The present findings suggest that in both male and female partners in romantic, long-term relationships, higher levels of intimacy are associated with higher sexual desire, which is, in turn, associated with higher odds for partnered sexual activity to occur. The temporal association of increasing intimacy and subsequent sexual desire appears not to be different in women and men.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-576
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • Ecological validity
  • experience sampling methodology
  • sexual desire
  • sexual interaction
  • SEX


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