Relational and Sexual Satisfaction and Mindfulness in Midlife

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Author:
Leavitt, Chelom Eastwood
Graduate Program:
Human Development and Family Studies
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
June 30, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Eva S. Lefkowitz, Dissertation Advisor
  • Eva S. Lefkowitz, Committee Chair
  • David Manuel Almeida, Committee Member
  • Steffany Jane Fredman, Committee Member
  • Valarie Elizabeth King, Outside Member
Keywords:
  • sex
  • midlife
  • mindfulness
  • cross cultural
  • gender
Abstract:
Sexual health during midlife is not limited to physical well-being, but also includes aspects of mental and social well-being. This broad concept of sexual health may be best understood by using objective standards (e.g., sexual frequency) and subjective perceptions (e.g., relational and sexual satisfaction). A range of demographic, physical health, individual, relationship, and cultural factors contribute to sexual health. Recently, researchers have considered mindfulness as another contributor to relational and sexual health. Mindfulness may be one mechanism that enables midlife adults to experience healthy relational and sexual satisfaction. Research in this area has predominantly examined associations between trait mindfulness and relational and sexual satisfaction. However, even individuals who are mindful in daily activities, as assessed by trait mindfulness, may find it difficult to remain mindful during a sexual experience due to additional obstacles such as sexual anxiety, distraction, expectations of performance, sexual goals, inhibition, or self-criticism. Thus, it is important to consider associations between sexual mindfulness, a form of state mindfulness, and relational and sexual satisfaction. The purpose of this dissertation was to examine factors that may contribute to midlife relational and sexual health by developing a new measure of sexual mindfulness, examining the contributions of mindfulness and desire discrepancy to relational and sexual satisfaction, and examining the roles of culture and gender in relational and sexual satisfaction. To address these questions, I collected data on 1445 midlife adults (ages 35 to 60, 45% female) from the U.S., Ukraine, and Turkey. In Paper 1, I developed a measure of mindfulness during sexual experiences, the Sexual Mindfulness Measure (SMM). The SMM proved to be a two-factor measure‚ÄĒobservation and non-judgment of experience. The SMM showed reliability across gender, age groups, and marriage lengths. The SMM also showed explanatory value above and beyond trait mindfulness. In Paper 2, I used this newly constructed measure to evaluate whether trait and sexual mindfulness moderate the association between sexual desire discrepancy and relational and sexual satisfaction. Being mindful by observing during sexual experiences moderated the association between desire discrepancy and sexual satisfaction. In Paper 3, I examined cross-cultural differences in sexual health in the U.S., Ukraine, and Turkey, as well as examined how cultural differences may interact with gender. I found that adults in the U.S. kissed more, had vaginal and oral sex less frequently, felt more satisfied with their romantic relationships and their sex lives, and were less judging of sexual experiences than adults in Ukraine and Turkey. Gender differences did not vary by country. Across the three studies, findings indicate that context is an important aspect of midlife relational and sexual health. Midlife adults are influenced by factors at both the macro and micro level. Sexual mindfulness may provide skills that encourage midlife adults to let go of sexual expectations or goals and judgments that diminish their satisfaction with sexual experiences. Future research should consider further cross cultural validation of the SMM and continued examination of how sexual mindfulness contributes to both relational and sexual health.