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Is committed desire intentional? A qualitative exploration of sexual desire and differentiation of self in couples


, : Is committed desire intentional? A qualitative exploration of sexual desire and differentiation of self in couples. Family Process 54(2): 308-326

The question of what heightens or diminishes sexual desire has long been a passionate theme across cultures in literature, arts, media, and medicine. Yet, little research has been conducted to determine what affects level of desire within couples. The degree of differentiation of self has been suggested as an important variable in shaping partners' level of desire. Through a qualitative analysis of dyadic couple interviews, this study provides an account of characteristics, processes, and trajectories of sexual desire and differentiation in 33 heterosexual couples of varying ages and relationship duration. Factors associated with high desire were change and autonomy, whereas conflict and children were reported to be desire-diminishing factors. Innovation, sharing, autonomy, and effort emerged as desire-promoting strategies, while fostering personal interests, investing in a positive connection, and enhancing personal integrity were identified as couples' strategies to promote and preserve differentiation of self. The results also shed light on couples' perceptions of whether and how sexual desire changes over the course of the relationship and challenge common cultural assumptions about desire in committed relationships-namely the myth that the only authentic expression of desire is that which occurs spontaneously and without intention and planning. Implications for couple therapy are discussed.

US$19.90

PMID: 25308721

DOI: 10.1111/famp.12108


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