What do you think it takes to have great sex? Maybe you believe it’s the right partner. You feel that once you find him or her there’ll be tons of chemistry, and you’ll have mind-blowing sex from the get go. Or maybe you think that great sex doesn’t just happen with the right partner. Instead, it’s the result of putting in the work together to make your sex life as good as it can be.
People have different ‘sexpectations’ when it comes to what it takes to have satisfying sex, researcher Jessica Maxwell told Love Matters at the 2016 International Association for Relationship Research (IARR) conference.
Sexual destiny or sexual growth?
Some people believe in sexual destiny. They think great sex happens when they find their sexual soul mate –- someone they have a lot of natural chemistry with. ‘Sexual destiny beliefs are the side that the media perpetuates: that good sex should just happen,’ Maxwell explains.
Other people believe in sexual growth. They feel that their sex life needs to be nurtured and that it’s possible to work through sexual problems.
Maxwell got to wondering about the effect of people’s sexpectations, especially when there are sexual disagreements. ‘This is really important because we know that over a long-term relationship, you and your partner are pretty much inevitably going to have some level of sexual disagreement – you’re not going to always be on the same page,’ she says.
In a series of studies, Maxwell found people willing to fill in online questionnaires or daily diaries. First she asked about their sexpectations: did they believe in sexual destiny or sexual growth? She also wanted to know about disagreements they had with their partner about sex – for example about how often to have sex, or sexual likes and dislikes – and whether they were happy with their sex lives and relationship.
Sex problems? No big deal.
Believing that sex is something you need to work at over time and not just a question of great chemistry from the get go was linked to a satisfying relationship and, not surprisingly, better sex. Maxwell’s findings suggest that it’s probably sexual growth beliefs that lead to great sex, not the other way around.
This makes good sense: when sexual growth believers disagree about sex with their partner, they’re more likely to do something about it and work through the issue. For them, sex-related problems are likely to be no big deal.
What’s more, if someone believes in sexual growth, it’s probably going to rub off on their partner: he or she will feel happier with their sex life and relationship, the research also showed.
People who believe in sexual soul mates, on the other hand, don’t fare quite as well when they have disagreements about sex. Instead of working them out, they may think the problem is that their partner isn’t the right one. So if they have sexual disagreements, they feel worse about their relationship, and disappointed and disconnected during sex.
Sex takes work
So what’s the take-home message from Maxwell’s research? First off, it’s a good thing to realize that sexual disagreements are a normal part of any relationship. Being careful of the things you see or read in the media – like romance novels and chick flicks – is a good place to start. ‘Often they’ll perpetuate the idea that you’ll meet that guy, there’s an initial attraction, and you’ll have great sex and simultaneous orgasms,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t really portray what I consider the more realistic, pragmatic views of sex that are especially true in longer relationships: believing in sexual growth, and the need to work together to improve sex.’
‘If you’re not having mind-blowing sex every time, that doesn’t mean your partner’s not meant to be, or that your relationship is no good,’ she explains. If you believe that sex takes work instead of just expecting that chemistry is either there or it’s not, it can help keep the spark alive in long-term relationships.
Presentation at the IARR conference 2016: Passionate or Practical? How expectations about sexual satisfaction shape responses to sexual challenges in relationships
Interview with Jessica Maxwell, University of Toronto, Canada, [email protected], @Jess_A_Maxwell
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