Why Some Couples Have More—and Better—Sex

Sarah Sharp/Unsplash
Source: Sarah Sharp/Unsplash

Many couples want to increase the frequency of their sexual activity as well as the satisfaction they derive from their sexual encounters. Researchers have investigated several factors associated with increased sexual frequency and more satisfying sexual experiences. Before we discuss this research, we should define what researchers typically measure when they attempt to assess "more sex" or "better sex." In the research discussed below, more sex can refer to increased sexual frequency or having more sex partners (Allen and Walter, 2018).  Better sex usually means experiencing more sexual satisfaction (Meltzer and McNulty, 2016; Schick et al., 2008). It may surprise you to learn that “more sex” and “better sex” do not always go hand-in-hand.

Attachment Styles

Although individuals with a secure attachment style describe their relationships as happy and supportive, individuals with an avoidant attachment style tend to be uncomfortable with close relationships. Individuals with an anxious attachment style worry that their partners may not love them (Hazan and Shaver, 1987). It is not surprising then that a more secure attachment style is associated with the likelihood of having more satisfying sex. Individuals with anxious and avoidant attachment styles tend to experience less sexual satisfaction in their encounters (Brassard et al., 2012; Butzer and Campbell, 2008). Your partner’s attachment style can also influence your own sexual satisfaction. People whose partners have avoidant attachment styles also report less satisfaction with their own sex lives (Butzer and Campbell, 2008).

Expressing Affection 

Consistent with our expectations, couples who express more physical affection in their relationships also report greater sexual satisfaction. Heiman et al. (2011) found that both men and women who engaged in more kissing and cuddling with their partners also reported increased sexual satisfaction. Fisher et al. (2015) also found that kissing and cuddling were associated with greater sexual satisfaction. But physical affection is not the only type of affection which can lead to better sex. Men who are more concerned about their partner’s sexual experience also feel more sexually satisfied themselves (Heiman et al., 2011) and positive behaviors performed by men (saying I love you or giving compliments to partners) are associated with both more frequent sex and more sexual satisfaction (Schoenfeld et al., 2016).

Number of Sexual Partners 

Although having a higher number of sex partners is sometimes considered having "more sex," in somewhat surprising results, researchers have found that men and women with more lifetime sexual partners are actually less sexually satisfied (Fisher et al., 2015; Heiman et al., 2011).  Researchers suggest that individuals who continually pursue new partners may be seeking not more sex but more satisfying sex (Heiman et al., 2011). Unfortunately these results suggest that having more sex partners does not necessarily equate to having a better sex life. In fact, some research shows that married individuals not only have more frequent sex than their single counterparts, but also that people with only one sexual partner are the happiest (Blanchflower and Oswald, 2004).

Personality Traits

Individuals with some personality traits tend to have more sex. Extraverted individuals, those who are “more sociable, talkative, …and active” experience stronger sexual desire, engage in more frequent sexual activity, and have more sex partners (Allen and Walter, 2018). Keep in mind that although extraverted people may have more sex partners, that does not necessarily mean that they are having better sex. Some personality traits are also associated with having less satisfying sexual experiences. Neurotic individuals, those who are “more anxious, angry, and insecure” (as opposed to less neurotic individuals, those who are “calm, poised, and emotionally stable,” Allen and Walter, 2018) also feel less sexually satisfied with their encounters (Allen and Walter, 2018; Meltzer and McNulty, 2016).

Your Partner’s Characteristics 

As mentioned above, your partner’s characteristics can also impact on your sexual activity and satisfaction. For example, women who have more attractive and more masculine partners are more likely to experience orgasm (Puts et al., 2012), and men who are more concerned with their partner’s orgasm also experience more sexual satisfaction themselves (Heiman et al., 2011). Furthermore, people with happy partners experience more sexual satisfaction than those with unhappy partners (Fisher et al., 2015). Having a partner who is a feminist is also related to related to healthier and more sexually satisfying relationships (Rudman and Phelan, 2007; Schick and Zucker, 2008). Women who hold more feminist attitudes tend to be more satisfied with their own sexual encounters (Schick and Zucker, 2008) and  men with feminist partners also experience more sexual satisfaction.  

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Reference: 

Allen, M. S., & Walter, E. E. (2018). Linking big five personality traits to sexuality and sexual health: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 144(10), 1081.

Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2004). Money, sex and happiness: An empirical study. Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 106(3), 393-415.

Brassard, A., Péloquin, K., Dupuy, E., Wright, J., & Shaver, P. R. (2012). Romantic attachment insecurity predicts sexual dissatisfaction in couples seeking marital therapy. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 38(3), 245–262. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2011.606881

Butzer, B., & Campbell, L. (2008). Adult attachment, sexual satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction: A study of married couples. Personal Relationships, 15(1), 141-154.

Fisher, W. A., Donahue, K. L., Long, J. S., Heiman, J. R., Rosen, R. C., & Sand, M. S. (2015). Individual and partner correlates of sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness in midlife couples: dyadic analysis of the international survey of relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(6), 1609-1620.

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 511–524. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.52.3.511

Heiman, J. R., Long, J. S., Smith, S. N., Fisher, W. A., Sand, M. S., & Rosen, R. C. (2011). Sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness in midlife and older couples in five countries. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(4), 741-753.

Meltzer, A. L., & McNulty, J. K. (2016). Who is having more and better sex? The Big Five as predictors of sex in marriage. Journal of Research in Personality, 63, 62-66.

Puts, D. A., Welling, L. L., Burriss, R. P., & Dawood, K. (2012). Men’s masculinity and attractiveness predict their female partners’ reported orgasm frequency and timing. Evolution and Human Behavior, 33(1), 1-9.

Rudman, L. A., & Phelan, J. E. (2007). The interpersonal power of feminism: Is feminism good for romantic relationships?. Sex Roles, 57(11-12), 787-799.

Schick, V. R., Zucker, A. N., & Bay-Cheng, L. Y. (2008). Safer, better sex through feminism: The role of feminist ideology in women’s sexual well-being. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32(3), 225-232.

Schoenfeld, E. A., Loving, T. J., Pope, M. T., Huston, T. L., & Štulhofer, A. (2017). Does sex really matter? Examining the connections between spouses’ nonsexual behaviors, sexual frequency, sexual satisfaction, and marital satisfaction. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 489-501.

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