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.
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.