Our inherent beliefs about sex can have a far-reaching impact on our relationships, finds new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
University of Toronto researcher Jessica Maxwell, a PhD graduate, and her colleagues created a new scale to measure people’s general attitudes on sexual compatibility. They then tested their scale out across a variety of six different studies that involved nearly 2,000 participants. Overall, they found that people who strongly believe in sexual growth — a mindset that a fulfilling sex life takes effort and hard work from both partners — had better relationship and sexual satisfaction than those who didn’t. Meanwhile, people who believed in sexual destiny — that a good sex life is more a matter of finding the right person for you — had worse relationships when they started having disagreements about sex with their partner.
“People who believe in sexual destiny are using their sex life as a barometer for how well their relationship is doing, and they believe problems in the bedroom equal problems in the relationship as a whole,” explained Maxwell in a statement. “Whereas people who believe in sexual growth not only believe they can work on their sexual problems, but they are not letting it affect their relationship satisfaction.”
The differences between sexual destiny and growth aren’t easily apparent at first, Maxwell added, since many new relationships have their “honeymoon” phase when sexual desire is at its peak. It’s only later on in a long-term relationship that they begin to show up.
“We know that disagreements in the sexual domain are somewhat inevitable over time,” Maxwell said. “Your sex life is like a garden, and it needs to be watered and nurtured to maintain it.”
Interestingly enough, women were more likely to have a sexual growth mindset, which may reflect a reality about female pressure. Said Maxwell: “I think that this could be because there is some evidence that sexual satisfaction takes more work for women, so they rate higher on the sexual growth scale.”
Most people rarely belonged exclusively to one camp or the other, which is often the case in psychology research. For instance, some might be all for the concept of a sexual soulmate, while still believing that any good sex life requires communication. And even wholeheartedly believing in sexual growth doesn’t guarantee a successful relationship. But Maxwell believes their findings can be a source of relief to both the average person as well as therapists trying to reassure their clients that a flagging sex life isn’t necessarily the end of the road. And she does think believing in sexual destiny may be more trouble than it’s worth.
“Sexual-destiny beliefs have a lot of similarities with other dysfunctional beliefs about sex, and I think it’s important to recognize and address that,” she said.
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