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This Personality Trait Determines How Often Couples Have Sex

This Personality Trait Determines How Often Couples Have Sex: Nicole Kidman in The Stepford Wives, via Dreamworks

Nicole Kidman in The Stepford Wives, via Dreamworks

When it comes to sex, some couples do it a lot more than others. For example, although many married couples get it on several times per week, others have sex just a few times per year (see the exact stats here).

Undoubtedly, there are several reasons for this great variability, including differences in couples’ health and stress levels. However, a new study published in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that understanding sexual frequency in marriage has a lot to do with personality—the wife’s personality in particular.

In this study, researchers from Florida State University looked at longitudinal data from 278 heterosexual newlywed couples. At the beginning of the study, both partners completed a personality inventory that determined their standing on the so-called “Big Five” personality factors.

THE BIG 5
The Big Five model is one of the most popular measures of personality, and the basic idea behind it is that everyone’s personality can be broken down into five major components:

1. Openness to experience, which reflects your overall level of curiosity and desire for variety in life.

2. Conscientiousness, which reflects the degree to which you are organized and self-disciplined. Think anal retentiveness.

3. Extraversion, which reflects how sociable and outgoing you are.

4. Agreeableness, which reflects the degree of care and concern you have for others.

5. Neuroticism, which refers to how anxious and emotionally unstable you are.

(Curious about your own personality profile? You can take the Big Five test here.)

WHICH TRAITS LEAD TO SEX?
After newlywed couples in the Florida State study completed the personality inventory, a two-week diary study took place in which participants recorded their daily sexual activities and sexual satisfaction.

The researchers then looked at how husbands’ and wives’ personalities together predicted how often they had sex and how satisfied they were.

Husbands’ personalities didn’t matter at all when it came to sexual frequency.

Interestingly, husbands’ personalities didn’t matter at all when it came to sexual frequency. There were no links between any of the men’s traits and how often they had sex.

For women, though, the more “agreeable” they were, the more likely they were to have sex.

Why is that? It’s a stereotype, to be sure, but studies have found that men on average report having higher sex drives and want to have sex more frequently compared to women. Perhaps it’s the case that agreeable women have more willingness to match their partners’ interest in sex.

Agreeable women likely have more of what’s been termed “sexual communal strength,” or a willingness to make your partner happy even when their desires aren’t necessarily the same as yours.

WHICH TRAITS DON’T LEAD TO SEX?
When it came to predicting sexual satisfaction, those who were more neurotic were less sexually satisfied—a finding that held for both husbands and wives. This makes sense because being highly anxious and emotionally reactive not only makes it less likely that you’re going to want sex, but it will probably also get in the way of your enjoyment of the experience.

Oddly, men who were more open to experience tended to be less sexually satisfied, too. This finding was unexpected and might very well be a statistical fluke. It could also potentially signal that the highly open men in this sample found their sex lives to be too routine and not varied enough.

There is an important caveat here, which is that this study focused only on heterosexual newlyweds. As a result, it’s possible that the personality factors that make for frequent and satisfying sex might be different for other types of couples or partners who have been together much longer.

YOU DO YOU
Just because other couples might be having more sex than you, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you “should” be having more sex or that you’d be happier if you ramped up your sexual frequency. In fact, the science on this is very clear: more isn’t always better when it comes to sex.

THE TAKEAWAY
Limitations aside, it’s clear from this study that our personalities do reveal something important about our sex lives.


Justin Lehmiller, PhD is a sex educator and researcher at Ball State University and author of the blog Sex and Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @JustinLehmiller.


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