If Your Sex Life Needs Work…What Does That Mean?

Couple on bench“We just didn’t have good chemistry.” “The spark is gone.” “The passion isn’t there.”

How often have you heard these comments or something like them given as the reason for the end of a relationship? Maybe you’ve even said them yourself. It’s a fairly common belief that a passionate sexual connection is very important, and that there isn’t much we can do if there are problems in this area. In a culture that puts a lot of emphasis on sex, it may seem reasonable to end a relationship for this reason.

But is this a productive way to think about love and sex? In six different experiments, researchers compared people who tended to think there is such a thing as a natural sexual connection, or “sexual destiny,” with those who had a more flexible point of view on the matter. They wanted to see how these two groups differed when it came to their relationships.

Do You Believe in Destiny or Growth?

If you’re a believer in “sexual destiny,” you probably think that sexual partners either “click” or they don’t.  From this point of view, sex with the “right” partner should typically be exciting, fulfilling and easy. If the sex isn’t satisfying, that indicates a problem…either with the choice of partner, or the relationship itself.

On the other hand, those who are more inclined to believe in “sexual growth” generally think that having a good sex life takes time and effort. They probably agree that even compatible couples may have problems with sex from time to time, including low desire or lack of satisfaction. These people also typically think that problems with sex can be overcome.

Believing in Sexual Growth is Better for Relationships

Across studies of more than a thousand people, these researchers discovered, men and women who were more of the “sexual growth” point of view seemed to be more satisfied with their relationships and their sex lives. Their partners were more satisfied, too! They also felt more connected and desired during sex.

Those who believed in “sexual destiny,” on the other hand, tended to assume that if the sex was good, the relationship was in good shape. But if there were problems in the bedroom, they figured the relationship was in trouble, and felt bad about it as a result. In other words, sexual problems were more likely to bring these couples down.

Having a “growth” point of view couldn’t fix everything for every couple, of course. When people were seriously incompatible sexually, there were still problems. And when “destiny” believers felt they were with someone they were meant to be with, they became more willing to “work on it” as far as sex went.

Ups and Downs are Normal

As experts remind couples, relationships almost always experience some ups and downs in this area over time. For instance, it’s very common for couples to have some trouble getting back into the swing of things after the birth of a new baby. Or medical issues can interfere for anyone at any time.

If your point of view is that this is something you can work through and overcome, your relationship may well be able to weather these bumps in the road. But if one or both of you assumes that issues with sex mean the relationship is on the rocks, then the situation might cause serious problems.

Sex is important, but it’s not everything. More than that, it’s something you and your partner can work on together. If this subject is a concern for the two of you, there are many resources that can help, including books, resources, and therapy. Find a Therapist in your area today.

By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida


Maxwell, J. A., Muise, A., MacDonald, G., Day, L. C., Rosen, N. O. & Impett, E. A. (2016). How implicit theories of sexuality shape sexual and relationship well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication.