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Does Sub-Par Sex Mean Your Relationship Is Doomed?

 

If Hollywood has taught us anything, it's that finding your soulmate locks in a future of pure bliss—you basically become a walking, talking heart-eye emoji and live happily ever after. But in reality...not so much. According to new research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, thinking you're in a relationship with The One could be detrimental to a key aspect of your happiness—your sexual satisfaction.

Most people who believe in the idea of a perfect match also believe in a perfect sexual match, says study author Jessica Maxwell, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of psychology at the University of Toronto. It's what psychologists call "sexual destiny," and Maxwell's team found those with this mindset think problems in the bedroom automatically reflect their state as a couple, and that their sexual satisfaction with someone is fixed rather than something you both have control over.

"We know that sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction often go hand in hand, and it tends to be the case that the most satisfied couples are also very satisfied with their sex lives," Maxwell says. (Not to mention, science shows how often you get busy impacts how you feel about your partner.)

But long-term relationships also have a natural ebb and flow of passion, so using your sex life as a barometer for how happy your partner is with you can cause unnecessary alarm—and even create problems. When people believe chemistry is fixed, their happiness is more affected by problems between the sheets than those who view sexual attraction as more malleable, says a recent study in Social Cognition.

What's more, it ignores the very important point that all aspects of a relationship take effort, whether or not fate has brought you together.

"Consider thinking that you're destined to have a particular job—does that inherently guarantee satisfaction with your work?" points out Laurel Steinberg, Ph.D., sex and relationship therapist and adjunct professor of psychology at Columbia University. No—it's engaging, committing, and putting in effort that secures happiness and satisfaction, she says.

Interestingly, despite the hopeless romantic rap we women tend to have, Maxwell's team actually found that men were more likely to believe in sexual destiny, while women were on the "it takes work" team. The reasoning for that makes sense, though: "Sexual satisfaction often takes more work for women, so their experiences have taught them sex takes effort," Maxwell explains. (Psst: 21 Surprising Facts You Didn't Know About Your Orgasm.)

That's good news for us, considering the study also found that those who believe sexual satisfaction takes work to maintain are happier with their relationship and their sex life—and so are their partners.

But sometimes humdrum sex actually is a red flag. So how can you tell when boredom in the bedroom is a sign of something more? Both experts say you need to talk with your partner about it. "Candid transparency makes it very obvious what the couple is really dealing with—life problems, problems liking one another, or both," Steinberg says. So just be honest so the two of you can get back to having happy, healthy sex. 

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