Beliefs can make or break a relationship. Social psychologists have studied the impact underlying beliefs have on relationships, but the latest study is the first to analyze how these beliefs can affect the sexual aspects of a relationship. The study, published in the November issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that the key to a thriving sex life in long-term relationships is the belief that sexual satisfaction takes effort and leaves room for compromise and growth.
Sexual Growth vs. Sexual Destiny
University of Toronto psychologists analyzed findings collected from 1,900 heterosexual and homosexual men and women. They separated beliefs into two categories—sexual growth and sexual destiny. Participants that believed that it is necessary and important to work through sexual issues with their partners, and that sexual dissatisfaction doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything fundamentally flawed in their relationship, fell into the sexual growth category. Participants who believe that problems in the bedroom are inextricably linked to problems within the relationship itself are believers in sexual destiny—the romantic notion that soulmate connections equate to sexual satisfaction throughout a long-term relationship.
During the honeymoon phase, which, according to researchers lasts 2 to 3 years, sexual fulfillment is ranked high regardless of belief in sexual growth or sexual destiny. But research indicates that after the honeymoon period wears off, those who believe in sexual growth fare far better in the sexual satisfaction department than do those who believe in sexual destiny. Sex in a long-term relationship requires nurturing and commitment, just as other aspects of the relationship do. It’s not all passion and fire 24/7.
Of course, human beings are complex, and therefore there is overlap between the two categorizations. Many people demonstrated aspects of both. For instance, women are more prone to believe in soulmate connections and romantic destiny, but they are also more likely to believe in putting in the effort to maintain sexual satisfaction than are men. The study showed that sexual destiny believers were also much more willing to put in the work to improve their sex lives when they truly felt their partners were their soulmates.
Analyzing the results, Jessica Maxwell, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts & Science at University of Toronto, explains: “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.” The study also suggests that sexual-growth beliefs can lessen sexual dissatisfaction in the bedroom, as long as the problems do not become unmanageable and unresponsive to those efforts.
How the Media Can Hurt
Who doesn’t love a good love story? Unfortunately, the media can set us up for some very unrealistic expectations in our relationships. Researchers showed that they could manipulate the beliefs of participants simply by showing them fake magazine articles promoting either sexual growth or sexual destiny beliefs. As a whole, the study is useful to therapists working with couples to improve their sex lives. It is important, researchers believe, to emphasize that sexual issues in long-term relationships are more commonplace than romance novels and movies lead us to believe, and that experiencing sexual struggles don’t necessarily mean a relationship is doomed.
Therefore, the secret to a happy sex life is very simple. To succeed, be realistic and be willing to work and grow—just like with anything else.