Social Anxiety and Intimacy

A review of “On the Relationship Among Social Anxiety, Intimacy, Sexual Communication, and Sexual Satisfaction in Young Couples”


In a recent study, Montesi et al. (2013) examined whether Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is associated with less sexual satisfaction, and whether fears of intimacy and satisfaction with sexual communication were mechanisms accounting for the relationship (i.e., the reasons why SAD is related to sexual satisfaction). Results supported the idea that SAD is associated with lower sexual satisfaction, and that this relationship can be accounted for by SAD’s relationship with greater intimacy fears and lower satisfaction with sexual communication. The author noted that this research underscores the importance of addressing intimacy for individuals with SAD who are involved in romantic relationships and made suggestions for interventions which may prove beneficial.


What were the goals of this study?

The main goals of the study were the following:

  • To examine the relationships between social anxiety fears, fear of intimacy, satisfaction with sexual communication, sexual satisfaction, and overall relationship satisfaction among undergraduate couples.
  • To examine some potential mechanisms of the relationship between social anxiety fears and sexual satisfaction. Specifically, the authors wanted to examine a model where social anxiety fears was associated with greater fear of intimacy, which was in turn associated with lower satisfaction with sexual communication, which was then associated with lower sexual satisfaction. This type of a model is called a meditational model.

How did the authors examine the study goals?

The authors examined the study goals by surveying undergraduates who were in committed romantic relationships. They then contacted these undergraduates’ romantic partners and surveyed these individuals as well. The participants then completed several questionnaires online.

What were the main findings from this study?

There were two main findings:

  • The authors found that all the variables in the study were related in the manner in which they expected. Specifically, they found that social anxiety fears were associated with greater fears of intimacy and with lower satisfaction with sexual communication, sexual relations, and the relationship. In addition, they found that intimacy fears were also associated with lower satisfaction with sexual communication, sexual relations, and the relationship.
  • The authors found support for their proposed model. As pictured below, the authors found that social anxiety fears were associated with sexual satisfaction through their relationship with intimacy fears and sexual communication satisfaction.

Social Anxiety and Intimacy Chart

What are the implications of this study?

The results of this study suggest that individuals with social anxiety disorder may experience more difficulties in intimate relationships, which may be caused by their social fears and related fears of intimacy and satisfaction with communication about sex. In addition, this study suggests that individuals with SAD, who are in romantic relationships, may find it beneficial to work on increasing their comfort with open, intimate communication with their partner.

What does this all mean for my loved one with social anxiety disorder?

This may not mean anything for your loved one, in particular. For example, your loved one may be very happy with your sexual relationship or may not experience difficulties with intimate communication. However, if your partner has expressed that they experience difficulties in this area, or if you suspect that they may have difficulties, these difficulties may be partially related to his or her social anxiety fears.

It’s important to note that we can’t say for sure that difficulties that your partner may have with intimacy of sexuality are related to his or her social anxiety fears though. This is due to limitations of the study reviewed; specifically, because this study used a survey done at one time point, it cannot say for certain whether social anxiety fears cause difficulties with intimacy or sexual behaviors, only that they are related.

What can I do if I’m worried about how my loved one’s social anxiety fears may be affecting our romantic relationship?

If you’re concerned about how your loved one’s social anxiety fears may be impacting your relationship, you may find it useful to talk to your partner about this in an open and easy manner. Remember, one aspect of social anxiety is extreme fears of being negatively evaluated and so it’s important to be sensitive to your partner’s feelings. In addition, you may find it useful to attend couples’ therapy with your partner that focuses on increasing communication. Although social anxiety disorder may lead to difficulties with open communication, your partner will likely experience less anxiety regarding communication if you practice communication skills together. In turn, this could result in greater intimacy and, ultimately, greater sexual satisfaction.

How can I learn more about this study?

If you would like to learn more about this study, please click the following link:


Montesi, J. L., Conner, B. T., Gordon, E. A., Fauber, R. L., Kim, K. H., & Heimberg, R. G. (2013). On the relationship among social anxiety, intimacy, sexual communication, and sexual satisfaction in young couples. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42(1), 81-91. doi: 10.1007/s10508-012-9929-3

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