Hollywood movies, cheap sitcoms, and glossy magazines are often blamed for muddying our perceptions of sex, love, and relationships. Fortunately, there has been some empirical study on the matter to separate gossip from reality.
Social psychologists from the University of Toronto investigated the sex lives of 1,900 participants, including both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, in the hopes of answering the age-old question: what makes a happy sex life?
In essence, their study found that sex satisfaction in long-term relationships all centers around our desire to work on our sexual problems and our sexual expectations (or “sexpectations” as the researchers call it). Those who held less rigid and idealistic views of "soul mates" and other implicit theories of sexuality tended to be happier with their partner in the bedroom.
"We know that disagreements in the sexual domain are somewhat inevitable over time. Your sex life is like a garden, and it needs to be watered and nurtured to maintain it," study author Jessica Maxwell, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology, explained in a statement.
Their research found that a couple’s sex life often has a honeymoon period of around two to three years. After that, there’s a tendency for sexual satisfaction to dwindle. From here, the researchers say it is important to view your sexual relationship as something open to discussion and change.
As Maxwell explains, this stands in stark comparison to romanticized ideas of soulmates and “romantic destiny stories” that promote relationships as a static and predetermined thing. This can lead to people feeling a relationship should simply end if one thing in the bedroom isn't going well. In reality, it's something that can be worked on.
"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," Maxwell added.
"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 study, "How Implicit Theories of Sexuality Shape Sexual and Relationship Well-Being", can be found in the November issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.