University of Toronto researchers say your attitude toward sex is the key to happiness


University of Toronto researcher Jessica Maxwell

Researchers at the University of Toronto believe they’ve uncovered the key to a lasting, happy relationship: it’s all about your attitude toward sex.

If you believe that good sex requires time and effort, you’re on the right track, whereas if you’re convinced that finding a compatible partner is the answer, you may be in for a rude awakening.

To assess the impact our “sexpectations” have on relationship quality, Jessica Maxwell and her team divided participants in six studies into two groups: those who believe in “sexual destiny” and those who believe in “sexual growth.”

Those high in sexual destiny beliefs tend to believe in soulmates and view sex as a barometer of their overall relationship, whereas those high in sexual growth beliefs acknowledge that sexual challenges and discrepancies can be worked on and overcome. The team’s findings reveal that those higher in sexual growth beliefs are more satisfied with their sex lives and overall relationships.

Maxwell, a PhD candidate, explains that those who believe in sexual destiny see sexual challenges as a sign that the relationship isn’t meant to be.

“In long-term relationships, sexual problems and disagreements are inevitable, but those high in sexual destiny beliefs don’t realize that this is normal and instead let the sexual issues spill over and negatively affect their overall relationship,” she says.

Despite its real-life implications, messaging that reinforces sexual destiny as a romantic ideal abounds in literature and popular culture.

“The first step is to reduce consumption of romantic media (e.g., The Bachelor and rom-coms) because watching these programs is associated with believing in soulmates,” says Maxwell. “You can counteract the soulmate myth by watching programs with more realistic portrayals of sex (e.g., This Is 40) to remind yourself that sex isn’t always as perfect as we typically see in Hollywood.”

Maxwell suggests that you can foster sexual growth by making compromises to meet your partner’s needs, trying new things that fall outside of your comfort zone and scheduling time for sex.

I ask clients to try one new thing as a couple every single month — in or out of the bedroom. Novelty — even if you don’t enjoy it — fosters growth.

I also recommend that all couples discuss sexual frequency, as this is one of the most common sexual challenges. Write down how often you want sex and share your answers with each other. Discuss. Debate. Negotiate. Laugh. Roll your eyes. As long as you’re talking, you’re growing.

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Jess O’Reilly is a sought-after speaker, author and sexologist.

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