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Let's Talk About Sex, Money, and Expectations in Marriage

Sex and money aren’t often mentioned in the same breath, even for married couples. Whether because finances aren’t a particularly romantic subject or because physical intimacy doesn’t seem to factor into the weekly budget, the common view seems to be that these two topics are totally separate. However, these topics do have something clearly in common: neither seems to be an easy topic for couples to discuss, especially when partners feel inexperienced or unhappy with their current situation. Two recent research articles reveal further connections between sex and money.

The first study, by Hill and colleagues, looked specifically at the influence of money, sex, and stress on marital stability.[1] To discover relationships between these domains, the research team explored many factors: financial stressors, work-family conflict, parenting stressors, couple income, sexual frequency, financial satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, financial communication, relational communication, and marital stability. With these variables in mind, the researchers gathered information from parents of teenagers.

Man and woman looking at a laptop together

The second study, “The Budget and the Bedroom” by Saxey and colleagues, focused on the relationships between financial pressure, financial behaviors, and sexual satisfaction.[2] The research team looked at variables such as how each spouse perceived the state of their finances, each spouse’s financial management behaviors, and each spouse’s perception of their sexual relationship. This study used information from newlywed couples.

Some key findings emerged from both studies. For one, it appears that viewing finances and sex positively helps to decrease levels of marital instability and increase relationship satisfaction. Couples who reported lower satisfaction with finances and sex had higher marital instability, and couples who felt increased economic pressure seemed to have lower relationship satisfaction.

Financial practices also played a role in well-being for couples regarding both finances and sex. Saxey and team reported that unhealthy financial habits increased economic pressure, which contributed to marital instability. Hill and team found a similar pattern in terms of financial communication. Couples who had less frequent and lower-quality communication about finances also felt less financial satisfaction. On the other hand, healthy communication about both finances and sex helped reduce instability in marriage.

man and woman talking while crossing the street

Both research articles pointed towards perception as a key indicator of relationship satisfaction. Both research teams found in their analysis that the way partners saw different aspects of their relationship played a larger role in outcomes than any frequency (amount of money or amount of sex). Satisfaction surrounding financial and sexual aspects of the relationship were significantly connected to marital instability. It appears that the impact of finances and sex on relationships is less about what actually happens and more about the perception of what is going on. In addition, spouses who felt economic pressure had lower sexual satisfaction. The outcomes for couples relied more on how the wife felt about the financial burdens for their family rather than the specific money amount.


Take note of financial perceptions, adjust them as needed. Both studies revealed a strong correlation between how a couple perceived the management and condition of their finances and the couple’s sexual satisfaction. Beyond this, the second study revealed that those couples who reported financial and sexual dissatisfaction also experienced greater marital instability. This evidence suggests that a wife and husband’s perception of the couple’s finances has a large impact on their satisfaction with and stability of the marriage.

Both studies also showed how perceptions do not always match the reality of the financial situation. For example, a negative perception can be present even when the couple’s finances are well managed, and a positive perception can exist even when the couple’s finances are not well managed. In order to prevent a false perception of the financial situation, it is important to sit down as a couple and talk about how each person perceives the management and condition of the couple’s finances.

Along with sitting down together, couples should also consider speaking with a financial counselor. A professional counselor can assist the couple in determining what management practices are going well and what should be improved. After receiving this outside perspective, both spouses should adjust their perception to more accurately reflect the reality of the situation. A professional perspective can be found here. In the event that a couple continues struggling to determine how to view their finances even after seeing a counselor, it is likely better for the marriage to err on the side of a positive perception, rather than a negative perception.

Practice and improve healthy financial habits. Both studies noted an association between financial management behaviors, such as how money was spent or saved, and each spouse’s perception of the couple’s finances. Although these perceptions did not always match the reality of the financial state, on average, those couples who reported more healthy financial behaviors generally reported greater satisfaction with their finances. This evidence suggests that, on average, it is more beneficial for a couple to develop and practice healthy financial habits, rather than unhealthy financial habits.

Similar to the idea of financial satisfaction, the second study concluded that both husbands’ and wives’ financial management behavior could predict sexual satisfaction. In other words, those husbands and wives whose financial management included more healthy behaviors, such as saving money, more often reported having greater sexual satisfaction than those husbands and wives whose financial management included less healthy behaviors. This evidence suggests that healthy financial practices may help with the couple’s sexual satisfaction.

Talk about finances and sex in a caring, cooperative way. No two people are exactly alike, and that fact holds true for views on sex and money just as much as on anything else. In order to make finances and sex a positive part of the marriage, both partners should take time to listen to what the other partner needs and wants. This involves setting aside time to sit down together, speaking openly and honestly, and working as a team to find ways that both partners can get what they need, and at least some of what they want. Regularly taking time to do this can improve a couple’s financial and sexual relationship.

Each of the two studies revealed the importance of a couple’s communication about money and sex. Specifically, data from the first study showed that the association between financial dissatisfaction and marital instability was no longer present when healthy financial communication was reported. The same is true about the association between sexual dissatisfaction and marital instability when healthy romantic communication was reported. In other words, when couples reported having healthy communication about money and sex, they also reported having a happier and more stable marriage. This evidence suggests that it is important for a couple to develop healthy communication, especially regarding finances and sex.

Similarly, the second article found that husbands and wives differed in their meanings of sexual satisfaction. It is easier to meet the expectations and hopes of a spouse when those expectations and hopes are made clear. Talking about sex and the nuances of sexual satisfaction may be difficult, so facilitating this discussion with a sex therapist or a good book can be helpful. Sexual counseling can be found in-person here or online here. Literature about sexual wholeness in marriage can be found here, here, and here.


[1] Hill, E. J., Allsop, D. B., LeBaron, A. B., & Bean, R. A. (2017). How do money, sex, and stress influence marital instability? Journal of Financial Therapy, 8(1).

[2] Saxey, M. T., Leavitt, C. E., Dew, J. P., Yorgason, J. B., Holmes, E. K., & LeBaron-Black, A. B. (2021). The budget and the bedroom: Associations between financial management behaviors, perceptions of economic pressure, and sexual satisfaction. Journal of Financial Therapy, 12(2).