Despite traditional beliefs about what makes men and women happy in relationships, a new study found that kissing, cuddling and caressing are more important to men than they are to women.
The researchers, from The Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Ind., were also surprised to find that more men reported being happy in their relationships while more women reported being sexually satisfied. Women who were in relationships for at least 15 years were more likely to be sexually satisfied than women in relationships less than 15 years.
The study authors surveyed more than 1,000 couples from the U.S. and four other countries to determine what factors predict relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction. All study participants reported being in their current relationships for an average of 25 years.
"This study makes it clear our assumptions aren't always borne out by research," said Jennifer Bass, director of communications at The Kinsey Institute. The researchers weren't immediately available for interviews.
Psychologists who were not involved in the research were intrigued by the finding that men with long-term partners need touch and affection to be happy in relationships, but say in general, touch is very important.
"Touch from a person you love and trust is a major emotional resource and a way that people can regulate their emotions when they are upset," said Aline Zoldbrod, a psychologist in Lexington, Mass. "Couples who use touch to comfort, to compliment, and yes, to seduce and arouse, are bound to be happier."
"While the women in this study also like physical gestures of affection, these gestures tended to be associated for them with increased satisfaction in their sexual activity," said Heitler. "For them, an affectionate hubby leads to more sexual pleasure."
Many women in long-term relationships, however, were not surprised by the finding that sex is so important to women who have been with their partners a long time.
"I have been with my husband since I was 19 years old (I just turned 40), and sexual satisfaction is a major part of why our marriage works," said Saideh Browne of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Another woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "I'm a 46-year-old woman that has been married for 30 years this summer. We have had ups and downs in our sexual relationship over the years, but I have to say that the times when we were having an active sex life was when I was happiest in our marriage."
Jessica Gottlieb, who has been married for 14 years, said: "I'm a married woman, the world should assume that I enjoy sex. It's part of the deal."
However, experts say sexual satisfaction is difficult to measure, and it could also be the case that study participants define it in different ways.