Feel like your partner is just too demanding, and that you’ll never live up to expectations? This could mean bad news for when you’re in the bedroom, according to a new study from the University of Kent.

Psychologists at the university conducted the first in-depth look at how several types of sexual perfectionism affect women’s arousal and functioning over time. Perfectionism, which includes the incessant striving for flawlessness and exceedingly high standards, is a common personality trait. Though perfectionism is often associated with more visible domains of life — school, work, chores — it can rear its head in private situations as well. The long term consequences of perfectionism on sex life had not previously been explored, so Professor Joachim Stoeber at the university’s School of Psychology set out to change that.

He and coauthor Laura N. Harvey looked at the responses of 366 women who had completed surveys between December 2013 and February 2014. The women were either students at the university or Internet users, with average ages of 19.2 and 30 years, respectively. The women were not told the exact goal of the study, but just that the survey was investigating how “personal and interpersonal expectations and beliefs affect one’s sexuality and sexual function.”

The researchers examined four different forms of sexual perfectionism: self-oriented, where a person applies perfectionist standards to themselves as sexual partners (feeling as though they should act and look a certain way to be the “best” partner possible); partner-oriented, where they apply these standards to their sexual partners; partner-prescribed perfectionism, which is when a person believes their sexual partner is imposing perfectionist standards on them; and lastly, socially prescribed sexual perfectionism, or the belief that society is imposing perfectionist sexual standards on them.

Previous studies have identified partner-prescribed and socially prescribed perfectionism as poorly adjusted sexuality, associated with problematic sexual behaviors, like feeling forced to act a certain way for a partner’s benefit, and sexual insecurity. However, these studies only involved cross-sectional relationships, meaning the study only looked at a single point in time. The current study was longitudinal — making comparisons over time — and not only affirmed that partner-prescribed sexual perfectionism contributed to women worrying they weren’t good enough sexually, but also female sexual dysfunction. Specifically, this type of perfectionism was associated with decreases in female arousal.

The negative effects of partner-prescribed perfectionism didn’t end there. These standards also predicted decreases in sexual self-esteem and increases in sexual anxiety, suggesting a deeply psychological effect. The findings could be useful to counselors, therapists, and clinicians who work with women on their sexual health and function.

This research adds to the evidence that female sexual dysfunction may not always, or ever, be about a hormonal or chemical imbalance. Good communication between partners has been consistently cited as the key ingredient to successful arousal and pleasure among women, augmented by the fact that dirty talk is one of the best ways to improve a couple’s sex life. Though hormones certainly play a role in sexual function, a much bigger part may be environmental and social: some psychologists even go so far to claim sex drive doesn’t exist.

Source: Stoeber J, Harvey L. Multidemensional Sexual Perfectionism and Female Sexual Function: A Longitudinal Investigation. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2016.