A Great Sex Life Requires Effort

I’ve been reading up lately on sex research, so you’ll probably see more of that on my blog. I’m in favor of well-conducted research about sexuality, because good science will confirm God’s design. He’s the one who created this universe, so if something’s true it should show up in the facts, even though faith is an important component of putting it all into practice.

One caveat: Not all scientific research is well-done. Sometimes researchers go in with a set of expectations and use a confirmation bias with the results. That said, we can learn a lot from well-performed studies. And today, I want to highlight one that goes right along with biblical principles.

Blog post title + couple helping each other up a mountain

As reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers at the University of Toronto set up a study to uncover the secret to a happy sex life in long-term relationships. Of course we all want that secret, right?

They wanted to see if it made a difference whether couples viewed satisfaction as the result of “sexual destiny” or “sexual growth.” One researcher defined these terms as follows:

“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.”

“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.”

I bet you can already guess which one I think is going to win this tortoise-hare race. And you probably won’t be surprised by the results either.

Basically, the sexual satisfaction for both sexual destiny and sexual growth couples is high in the first two to three years, with no real difference. It’s that honeymoon phase we all talk about, when you can’t imagine wanting to do anything more than hang out in your beloved’s arms and stare into his soulful eyes.

And then you day, you wake up and realize that your spouse is a truly flawed and rather irritating human being. And you just signed up to have this person as your roommate for life.

Okay, I exaggerate. But the shine does tend to wear off a bit for most. It’s just what happens as our lives get complicated. Seasons bring new challenges, our bodies change, our expectations alter, old baggage comes for visit and wants to stay, busyness takes hold, and much more.

So now what? Is your sex life likely to taper off, or even take a nose dive?

Apparently, it depends.

Based on the 1900 participants in the study, researchers concluded that those who had a sexual destiny perspective showed less satisfaction and ability to work through problems in their relationship. Those who expected sexual intimacy to require ongoing growth fared much better.

This all makes sense because if you think something will be easy and then it’s not, you’re far more likely to think it wasn’t meant to be. Whereas believing that something will require effort means that you aren’t caught by surprise when challenges arise; rather, you were primed to expect them and be willing to work through them.

Sexual destiny believers sound like those who promote the idea of sexual compatibility. Many claim you need to sleep with someone before deciding to get married because it would be terrible if you discovered post-nuptials that you’re sexually incompatible. But we’re not static people all through life, not even in the bedroom. Rather, what singles should do is (1) adopt a sexual growth philosophy, and (2) marry someone else with a sexual growth philosophy. Then you’re both willing to put forth whatever effort you need to have satisfying sexual intimacy for the long haul.

And if you’re already married? It’s not too late! These researchers influenced participants’ beliefs by sharing information that either supported the sexual destiny or sexual growth perspective and then studied the results. Since we now know that sexual growth is the way to go, you can adopt self-talk that promotes that view.

You now know that if sex isn’t easy or satisfying or exciting right now, it doesn’t have to be that way a year from now, a month from now, or maybe even tomorrow. It certainly doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. You and your spouse can grow!

Take to heart just this sampling of messages from the Bible about the rewards of exerting effort in the right direction:

“From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward” (Proverbs 12:14).

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

If things aren’t peachy keen at the moment, don’t give up! Don’t accept the status quo. And don’t doubt the love you have for each other. Rather, convince yourself and communicate with your spouse about the effort you need to exert to achieve a happy sex life, one that satisfies both of you and honors your Heavenly Father.

Choose sexual growth.

Source: Science Daily — Study reveals secret to a happy sex life

32 thoughts on “A Great Sex Life Requires Effort

  1. Jessica

    This is so good!!! While I was in school I was taught that it wasn’t possible to have problems only in the bedroom because those problems were a reflection of the marriage. Since I’ve been working with couples though, I find that this idea of sexual destiny (though I had no idea what to call it) is what can actually cause issues. There’s a huge difference between couples that say that they want improvement in their sex lives but that their relationship is good and those that feel that the relationship would improve if they could just improve their sex lives.

    Isn’t that cool how a little perspective change can help couples see that problems in their sex life are a great way to work toward sexual growth instead of seeing them as proof to their sexual destiny. I’m sharing this article!

    Reply
  2. Cara

    Awesome!! Another thing about the whole “try it before you buy it” is that if you don’t try a bunch you won’t have anything to compare to. So I think you’re more likely to work at what you have instead of saying “well, if he was
    More like so and so….”
    Just my thought on that.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Good point. I don’t think spouses with a past automatically compare, but when things aren’t going well, it’s tempting for your mind to go there.

      Reply
  3. Tony

    There is always a past with which to compare.

    Even someone who marries as a virgin has a whole host of life to compare with before marriage vs after marriage.

    They may not have sexual experiences to compare, but they do have a whole range of life experiences.

    A man who had season tickets and motorcycles and a flush bank account and a tidy and organized home before he got married and doesn’t have those things after certainly has things with which he can compare. If the implied promise of a fulfilling sex life is also no there, it’s hard to avoid the comparisons of pre vs post marriage life.

    I’m not saying someone should have pre-marital sex. What I’m saying is think holistically when it comes to pre vs post marriage comparisons.

    And of course, men are not the only ones who can have a host of pre vs post marriage comparisons.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Yes, but I think the intimacy of sex is in a somewhat different category. It spawns a lot of deeper feelings and attachments.

      Reply
      1. Tony

        Sure, my point is with dissatisfaction in one area, it opens up the possibility of all sorts of comparisons. So if someone is dissatisfied with his/her sex life, who is to say they won’t be looking at all manner of things to see if they have gotten better or worse since they married?

        That’s my point. Those suggesting that not having sexual experience prior to marriage avoid the comparisons are thinking narrowly.

        Even a pre-marriage virgin can make the comparison before and after.

        I.E. before marriage I wasn’t having sex, I had a motorcycle I could ride with my friends, and hockey season tickets, and could pay cash for my cars….

        Now I’m married, not really having sex, plus lost out on those other things too….

        Some will legitimately look at the before and after and conclude things have gotten worse, not better. Even those who were not sexually active before marriage.

        So I’m cautioning people who think that avoiding pre-marital sex protects one from that. I say not really. If one is not satisfied, it’s reasonable to think they will examine the whole of their life and not merely sex.

        In fact, I would hope people are looking at more than just sex. Isn’t that what we always hear? Sex is only one part of the relationship. If the sex is bad and life is worse, not better, a rational person would examine the whole of their life, and not just the sex life.

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          I understand that. And a person who wants to make their marriage work will hopefully avoid unhelpful comparisons and look toward how to make their current life better. Our minds can fool us into thinking things were much better before, when maybe they weren’t or maybe things could get a whole lot better with the right attitude, intentional effort, and God’s healing. Many blessings!

          Reply
          1. Tony

            But you also have to be real. If you just dismiss what they are saying, I.E. you tell them it wasn’t really better for you before you married me, you just think so…

            That’s not going to go over very well. It certainly isn’t the response of someone who values your feelings or perceptions.

            Not saying things can’t get better. But I am saying, if your thoughts and feelings are marginalized, there isn’t much evidence they will get better.

            After all, isn’t intimacy more than sex? If you dismiss what your spouse says because it’s difficult to hear, isn’t that also a rejection of intimacy? At the very least, you are saying you don’t care what they feel or think, only your thoughts and feelings are worth considering.

            I believe the really intimate response/play here is that the difficult truth is infinitely more intimate than a polite lie.

            Seems to me, the last thing to do when your spouse is questioning why he/she got married is to tell them they are wrong and their feelings or thoughts are not real, immature, or whatever one might use to dismiss them.

            Seems to me, this is the time to be the intimate partner and listen to the difficult words and be there for him or her. You know, say things like when we get the last one out of college, we could look at a motorcycle, or if you don’t like that, propose a sports car as a sensible compromise.

            But don’t just say, awww, you’re all wet, look at …..

            Or maybe you say I appreciate that you got rid of those things and keep me and the kids in the newer cars while you drive the beater, and let’s make a plan to get you a toy when the last one is out of the house…..

            But if you just tell him he’s immature for taking stock of his life, seems to me, the message you send is that you are not really there for him as a partner. You see yourself as his mom, knowing best and if only he would listen, then things would get better for him.

            If he wanted his mom, why would he ever leave home?

            If a wife wanted her dad, why would she ever leave home?

          2. J Post author

            There’s taking stock of your life and talking about what you want your marriage to look like, and there’s dwelling on the past and making unhelpful comparisons. The Bible says:

            ““Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19

            AND

            “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

            You can certainly say, “Remember when we used to _______? I’d love for us to do that again.” But saying, “I was happier before we were married because I could X, Y, and Z” hardly seems like a way to make your marriage stronger. Honesty is wonderful, but we don’t need to say everything we think…rather “what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

          3. Tony

            And I’ve done that. I’ve brought up that very thing. Remember when we were dating and we went to go-kart tracks and played mini-golf and did things that were not movies, and when we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other…

            Doesn’t matter.

            So I just go to the gym and work out my frustrations.

            It’s not like we have little kids running around. The youngest is 18 and headed to college this fall.

            Let me know again what I’m looking forward to? Because so far, I really don’t see it, and I do believe I’m putting all the pat suggestions into play here, without a fruitful return.

          4. J Post author

            So your comments bring up a question I ask myself with some commenters from time to time: Why are you reading and commenting on blogs like mine? What can offer you that will make you feel like you got something worthwhile? Because I sometimes feel like people want to express their frustration as much or more than finding options to move ahead in their marriage. Maybe you can help me understand.

          5. Tony

            I can’t deny I’m frustrated.

            Maybe someone will see themselves in such comments and recognize that their spouse is trying, or that they have a double standard, or whatever.

            Even if I can’t help myself, maybe others can learn.

            Since it’s not really emotionally safe for me to share at home, I can get it off my chest here.

            After all, being told in word and in deed that what you express has little or no value, you learn that it is fruitless to keep sharing. If you are told your desires are carnal or your emotions are shallow or your concerns have no merit, well, eventually you learn not to share them as that is just an exercise in frustration.

            You share what you feel or think and then get criticized for it. Well, it’s safer to simply clam up and watch to see if there is any change.

            The turtle who gets his head whacked when he pokes it out of the shell soon learns not to poke his head out of the shell.

          6. J Post author

            I appreciate what you said. Thanks for honestly answering my question. That does help me understand some readers better.

  4. Alicia

    Agree with all this. But there’s one catch. It means couples actually have to, *gasp* talk about sex and sexual expectations before they marry, not after. That’s the only way you’d know if you’re marrying someone with a “sexual destiny” or “growth” philosophy. That’s sadly lacking in the Christian community, in church’s premarital counseling/mentoring programs, and so on. In those, it’s all, “Don’t even think about or talk about sex before you’re married!! Even and especially when it involves the person you’re planning to marry! Because every Christian knows that if you even think about or talk about sex, it automatically means you’re going to sin and have it. Best strategy is to avoid the topic of sex altogether, and it’ll all work out magically once you say those vows.” Only it doesn’t, and too many couples learn that at the cost of each other and their marriages. So all this is great stuff, but it means there’d have to be a major shift in how the church does premarital mentoring and counseling. I’m not sure about post-marital counseling, because my husband and I have never had to go through that, but I’m guessing maybe it’s not as bad, because once you are married, of course it’s ok to talk about sex then. 🙂

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Yes, I think this should be a core focus in premarital counseling: Pastors, counselors, and marriage advocates should clearly teach that difficulties may arise but can be overcome with intention, effort, and intervention. If one’s fiancé rejects that idea entirely, I’d consider that a red flag.

      Reply
      1. Tony

        I contend it’s easy and practically worthless to talk about it before marriage.

        Why?

        Some people will simply say anything to walk down the aisle.

        Talking about it after you are married is the tougher conversation. It is relatively easy for you to be dismissed as you are now bound in your vows.

        How many times do we read about someone who begs, pleads, explains, asks, and so forth and they see little or no change.

        Or worse, they are told they shouldn’t feel the way they do.

        No, I contend that the pre-marital discussion is practically worthless. Words are cheap. Action is what has value. If the action is dismissal. I don’t mean negotiating for other means, I mean just plain dismissal, then all the talk in the world is meaningless.

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          What are you basing this on? Because having talked to premarital counselors and having seen the statistics, covering topics like this before you get married tends to have a positive, protective effect. Sure, some people lie, but the majority of couples will indeed say what they think in premarital counseling and you can deal with many issues beforehand.

          Reply
          1. Tony

            I base it on my experience. We spent more on the pre martial counseling than we did the wedding.

            Just because it has worked for others doesn’t mean it works for all.

          2. J Post author

            True. But odds are better when you go through premarital counseling. I pray your situation turns around. Many blessings!

    2. G

      My husband and I talked at length about sex in marriage before we got married. We talked a lot. It looked like we were on the same page and looked like we had the same outlook on communicating about it. But then we got married. He not only didn’t want to have sex with me much (and if he did he made sure I knew he didn’t want to be there), he didn’t want to talk about it. At all. And he shamed me in ruthless ways for desiring him and wanting to figure out what was going on for him that he didn’t want to be with me in that way. So I guess we are one of the minority (as J mentioned below) 😉

      Ps. I know it happens but I personally don’t know any Christians who have felt bad/shame about talking openly about sex before they got married

      Reply
  5. Terry

    I first heard the phrase “sexual compatibility” back in the ’90’s before I was married, and even then I thought the idea was ridiculous. If one person is male and the other is female, they’re sexually compatible.

    Reply
  6. Eric Wiggin

    J, You wrote, “Those who expected sexual intimacy to require ongoing growth fared much better.”

    I agree that this finding is the way it should and does work re sexual intimacy in marriage (DW & I have been married 54 years come June 1, so I think I understand “growth”). You also quote a string of Bible verses, which pietistic critics of your post might argue refer only to spiritual sanctification re a Christian’s walk with the Lord. Again, I agree with you. These verses do apply also to growth in sexual intimacy (even though some of them were penned by Paul, an unmarried man who was probably a widower).

    So let’s bring this all together with some more Pauline theology. He quotes Moses when he writes in Ephesians 5:31-32 that, “the two will become one flesh [or self]. This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church” (NIV). Christian Married sex, therefore, is intended to be a mirror of the relationship of Jesus and his church, and as you quoted from Paul above, “I press toward the goal . . .” (Phil. 3:14), then logically growth in sexual compatibility is intended by God who made marriage to be a major part of what is commonly known as “sanctification,” that is, to become more like Christ as we walk with Him by faith.

    Bottom line: for Christian couples, while the two can be separated in theory, in practice what applies to spiritual sanctification also applies to bedroom lovemaking.
    Eric Wiggin

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I simply believe that there are no parts of our lives that should be off-limits to Christian principles and biblical theology. In fact, I’d say that it’s when we apply those ethics to the marriage bed that sex becomes truly beautiful and intimate. Blessings!

      Reply
  7. Scott

    Perhaps I misunderstand the “sexual destiny” part, but I do not see these two as being mutually exclusive. I believe sex can be a barameter of the relationship as a whole, though not necessarily, but I also believe you need to be intentional about working on your sex life. What am I missing?

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I think it’s a matter of the importance you place on that aspect of your relationship as a measure of the whole. Yes, sex is certainly one indicator of how things are going, but if they’re not currently going well yet you believe your relationship is solid, you can usually work through those issues. Especially if you simply expect that sometimes sex will be a challenge in marriage, which it can be due to health or circumstances rather than relationship issues.

      Reply
  8. Racheal

    Thanks for this J. It makes sense and is helpful to me as I’m one of those women who rarely orgasms (yet has a very high libido), so if I used that as a gauge or our relationship, it would be too easy to give up hope! Your articles have been very encouraging.

    Reply
  9. Anonymous for my husband's privacy

    I was an elderly virgin when I married a widower who had a long, happy marriage, and our discussions about sexuality the month before we married wound up being so far from the reality that, nearly 3 years later, we are still laughing about it. I was hoping we would rarely have sex, he talked about his great sex life with his first wife without telling me that he had not been able to complete the sexual act for quite a few years, you’d think that the one would have solved the other, but instead somehow we figured out how to make it work. If anyone had told me I’d be having sex as often as we now do, I would have been afraid to marry, and my husband says it’ssomething he never even dreamed about. So in a sense, perhaps pre-marriage discussions are not always so helpful!

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I certainly see what you mean! It’s too hard to predict how things go.

      But by discussions, I guess I’m thinking you want to know that you’re not expecting “sexual compatibility” but rather understand that you will both need to prioritize sexual intimacy and figure things out as you go. It’s not so much information as attitude that matters.

      Reply
      1. Waiting not so patiently

        Sometimes even attitude isn’t enough. Or perhaps it’s just that it’s far easier to have a positive attitude before marriage, before you actually encounter difficulties. As a couple with no experience marrying in our church, we did have pre-marital counseling, but it barely touched on the topic of sex. Still, we had a generally optimistic attitude about figuring it out. Then after the wedding night was rushed and painful, I kept waiting for it to get to actually satisfying. Years passed while he kept verbally assuring me that we’d figure it out, while he didn’t take the time to actually do that. Eventually he gave up trying when nothing he did worked instantly. Now, almost ten years in, I’ve figured out on my own what I need, but we have a lot of work to do if we’re going to build any kind of sexual relationship.

        Reply
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