That old chestnut about women always wanting to cuddle? Myth, according to a Kinsey Institute study, which finds that kissing and hugging were more important to the happiness of men than of women.
The study involved 1,009 heterosexual middle-aged and older couples in long-term (average 25 years) committed relationships in five countries. Researchers asked participants to fill out questionnaires about their satisfaction with their relationships and sex lives, revealing some surprising truths: for instance, men who reported frequent kissing or cuddling with their partners were on average three times as happy with their relationships as men who reported limited snuggling. For women, such shows of tenderness didn’t have much impact on relationship satisfaction.
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However, both men and women who reported frequent touching, kissing and hugging, as well as higher sexual functioning and more sex, were more likely to be sexually satisfied. For women, sex got better over time: they reported significantly more sexual satisfaction after being with their partner for 15 years.
“Possibly, women become more satisfied over time because their expectations change, or life changes with the children grown,” Julia Heiman, director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “On the other hand, those who weren’t so happy sexually might not be married so long.”
Both men and women became happier with their relationships the longer they stayed together. But, in a reversal of stereotype, men were more likely than women to report being happy in their relationships, while women were more likely to report being satisfied with sex.
The couples in the survey hailed from Japan, Brazil, the U.S., Germany and Spain. The study found that Japanese couples were significantly happier with their relationships than American couples, who were in turn happier than couples from Brazil and Spain. The Japanese were also more likely to report sexual satisfaction than Americans: Japanese men in particular were 2.61 times more sexually satisfied than American men. As for women, Japanese and Brazilian women were more likely to report sexual satisfaction than their American counterparts.
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What predicted overall satisfaction? For women, key factors were relationship duration and their own good sexual functioning. But for men, there seemed to be a larger variety of contributors to happiness: longer relationships, good physical health (healthy men were 67% more likely to report being happy with their relationships than men in poor health), good sexual functioning and their wives’ sexual satisfaction: a man’s happiness rose 17% with each additional point he rated the importance of his partner’s orgasm.
“This study on heterosexual couples provides a basis for future research on sex and gender, such as how same-sex couples may or may not show similarities and differences in relationship and sexual satisfaction,” said Heiman.
The study [PDF] was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Meredith Melnick is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeredithCM. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.