When are sexual difficulties distressing to women? The selective protective value of intimate relationships
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Recent studies have shown that sexual functioning and sexually related personal distress are weakly related in women, with only a minority of sexual difficulties resulting in significant levels of distress. However, there has been little systematic research to date on which factors moderate the relationship between sexual functioning and sexual distress. Our aim was to assess the degree to which relational intimacy and attachment anxiety moderate the association between sexual functioning and sexual distress in college-age women. Two hundred women (mean age = 20.25) completed surveys assessing sexual functioning, relational intimacy, attachment anxiety, and sexual distress. Relational intimacy and attachment anxiety moderated the association between multiple aspects of sexual functioning and sexual distress. For lubrication and sexual pain, functioning was more strongly associated with distress in low-intimacy vs. high-intimacy relationships, but only for women with high levels of attachment anxiety. Results regarding desire were mixed and neither intimacy nor attachment anxiety interacted with subjective arousal or orgasm in predicting distress. We conclude that both relational intimacy and attachment anxiety are important moderators of the association between sexual functioning and subjective sexual distress in women. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.