Is Sex Really that Important to a Marriage’s Success?

How important is sex to a marriage?

Is marital success heavily dependent on an active sex life? You may think so. But according to a research recently published in Psychological Science,  couples who have sex quite frequently are not any more satisfied in their relationships than those who don’t. However, the way they automatically responded to their partners, in another test, told another story.

Lead author on the research, psychological scientist Lindsey L. Hicks of Florida State University, said “We found that the frequency with which couples have sex has no influence on whether or not they report being happy with their relationship, but their sexual frequency does influence their more spontaneous, automatic, gut-level feelings about their partners,”

“This is important in light of research from my colleagues demonstrating that these automatic attitudes ultimately predict whether couples end up becoming dissatisfied with their relationship.” he added.

The research

216 newlyweds were surveyed to understand how satisfied they were with their relationships. Participants were asked to rate several qualities of their marriage, how much they agreed with each other, and how satisfied they felt about their partners and their marriage. They were then asked to complete a computer classification task wherein a word appeared before their screen and they had to then indicate whether that word was positive or negative for them. But before they could do that, a photo of their partners popped up and was shown to them for a bit. 

The thought and motive behind this was to observe how participants would react and in how much time; their response time would indicate how strongly these two were connected with each other at an automatic level. If they responded faster, the association between the partner and the word was stronger. If the response was slower (to negative words) that generally meant it was a positive attitude towards their partner.

In addition to the above, partners were also asked how frequently they had sex in the last 4 months.

Key findings

It has always been believed that frequent sex offers several benefits to couples; improved bonding between partners and high chances of conception are to name a few. However, when participants were asked especially about satisfaction levels in their relationship, researchers were unable to find any association to it with frequency of sex.

The key finding of this research was that the more often couples had sex, the more strongly they associated their partners with optimistic or positive attributes.

Our findings suggest that we’re capturing different types of evaluations when we measure explicit and automatic evaluations of a partner or relationship,” says Hicks. “Deep down, some people feel unhappy with their partner but they don’t readily admit it to us, or perhaps even themselves.” 

It still remains to be seen whether this applies to all couples or just newlyweds. On the whole, this certainly points out to the fact that asking someone about their attitudes isn’t the only way to measure how they feel. And that frequency of sex has little to do with overall satisfaction levels of a relationship.

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