It’s the Holy Grail of long-term relationships: how to maintain a happy sex life. It’s something we all supposedly want, and it’s often used as a barometer of a relationship as a whole. So how do you do it?
Well, a new study from the University of Toronto has the solution (and you may not like it): hard work. Or at least, the belief that it takes hard work and effort to achieve a happy long-term sex life. Basically, if you’re all about some sort of “sexual destiny” routine, your relationship might already be doomed.
Jessica Maxwell, a PhD candidate in the university’s psychology department, found that those in relationships can be broadly split into two categories of “implicit belief”: believers in sexual destiny, and believers in sexual growth.
The destiny camp more or less believes that once you find romance, a happy sex life will take care of itself. The growth camp believes a sex life is “is like a garden, and it needs to be watered and nurtured to maintain it”.
Which camp you fall into has a big impact on how your relationships fare in the long term: the expectation you need to work hard on sexual growth is likely to sustain a relationship, while relying on a belief in sexual destiny is likely to undermine it.
“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, who studied 1900 hetero and homosexual participants to reach her conclusions.
“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.”
If you’ve only been with your S.O. for less than two or three years, you probably have nothing to worry about yet: According to Maxwell you’re still in a “honeymoon” phase, when both destinyers and growthers feel sexually satisfied.
But after that time, sexual desire begins to ebb and flow — and that’s when the benefit of being a growther, and expecting that you have to put in hard work to have a good sex life, becomes apparent.
“Sexual destiny beliefs have a lot of similarities with other dysfunctional beliefs about sex,” said Maxwell.
She didn’t directly examine how the media influences which camp you’ll fall into, though she speculated that TV shows like The Bachelor put a glamorous, romantic and not-so-realistic spin on relationships — which could fuel a sexual destiny, “soulmate” philosophy.
And while soppy gender stereotypes might lead you to assume that women are more likely to believe in soulmates than men, the research showed that isn’t the case.
Women are actually more likely to believe sex takes work in a long-term relationship — perhaps because “there is some evidence that sexual satisfaction takes more work for women, so they rate higher on the sexual growth scale,” Maxwell pondered.
The good news is that, in reality, your belief in sexual destiny and sexual growth is more likely to sit on a spectrum than be fixed in one camp or the other: many participants in the study showed aspects of believing in both.
The research indicated there are pros and cons to both beliefs: being a growther won’t save your relationship if your problems in the bedroom are too big to overcome, while destinyers are open to working hard on their sex life if they’re convinced they’re with their true soulmate.