The key to a happy sex life in long-term relationships lies in your "sexpectations," about it, finds a new study. Does great sex take work, or does it simply happen naturally when you find your soul mate?
The research, conducted by the University of Toronto, found that people who believe that a good sex life requires effort, had greater relationship and sexual satisfaction than those who believe good sex happens because a couple is meant to be.
These "sexpectations" can either sustain or undermine otherwise healthy relationships, according to study co-author Jessica Maxwell.
As part of the research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1,900 participants responded to a survey, which explored their attitudes towards sexual compatibility. Questions included: "Working through sexual problems is a sign a couple has a strong bond," and "a couple is either destined to have a satisfying sex life or not."
Maxwell and her colleagues were interested in two different mindsets: sexual growth and sexual destiny. "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," said 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."
Results demonstrated that those who believe in sexual growth had better relationships and sexual satisfaction than those who didn't. In addition, those who believed in sexual destiny had poorer relationships when they started arguing with their partner about sex.
According to Maxwell, during the honeymoon period of the first few years of a relationship, those who believe in sexual growth and those who believe in sexual destiny both experience satisfaction with their sex lives. It's not until later, she says, that the changes begin to emerge.
"We know that disagreements in the sexual domain are somewhat inevitable over time," says Maxwell. "Your sex life is like a garden, and it needs to be watered and nurtured to maintain it."
In a blog post for Science of Relationships. Maxwell added, "if you believe in sexual destiny and experience some form of disagreement in your sex life-- such as disagreement over whether or not to have sex, which we know is common in relationships - your relationship quality takes a hit."
Interestingly, the study found that women are more likely than men to believe that good sex takes work. "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," Maxwell said of the difference.
For couples experiencing problems in the bedroom, Maxwell says the takeaway message is clear: these problems are normal and don't necessarily mean that a relationship is in trouble.
"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.