Researchers link sexual frequency and satisfaction in marriage to personality traits

happy couple
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Curious about another couple’s sex life? Researchers say to look at the wife in a relationship, and her personality should give you some insight into what goes on behind closed doors.

According to a new study recently published in the Journal of Research in Personality, there are two personality traits that predict the frequency of sex among newlywed couples; these are openness and agreeableness. Interestingly, it’s only when these traits appear in women that they result in more frequent sex, whereas husbands’ personality traits are not linked to sexual frequency.

The study’s researchers, Andrea L. Meltzer and James K. McNulty of Florida State University, based their assessments of 287 newlywed couples (all married for less than six months) on the “Big Five” personality traits. These are (paired with additional definitions from CNN):

(1) Openness to experience, or how much you crave adventures
(2) Conscientiousness, or likely you are to be on time to meetings and reply to emails
(3) Extroversion, or how much you want to hang out
(4) Agreeableness, or how eager you are to please people
(5) Neuroticism, or how much you react to the sundry difficulties of life

Researchers asked the couples, mostly aged in their mid-20s to early 30s, to keep daily diaries for two weeks, describing what they did each day, including sex and how satisfied they were with it on a seven-point scale. The average was three to four times during that two-week period.

CNN reports: “Previous studies have found that men want and initiate sex more than women, the authors say, prompting women to be labeled as ‘the “gatekeepers” of sex within relationships.’ Traditionalist as this idea may be, the authors wrote that their own findings support it as well: The higher a wife rated on openness to experience or agreeableness, the more often the couple had sex.”

Meltzer told PsyPost:

“No prior research has examined the association between partners’ Big Five traits and daily reports of sexual activity so we were hesitant to make specific predictions. It was somewhat surprising, however, that husbands’ Big Five did not predict couples’ sexual frequency."

Interestingly, partner personality is unrelated to satisfaction with sex, although one’s own personality does have an effect. Husbands and wives high in neuroticism (a tendency to get stressed and anxious) enjoyed sex less, while husbands low in openness enjoyed it more.

The study leads to obvious other questions: What about non-heterosexual couples? What happens when a couple is no longer newlywed and several years into a committed relationship? What about couples from radically different upbringings and cultures? As CNN points out, “Since so much of sexuality is informed by culture and upbringing, it would be fascinating to see how people in more ‘liberated’ areas like New York or San Francisco compare with those in more conservative enclaves.”

The study’s discussion of frequency and satisfaction hits a key nerve with many people in marriages, for whom sexual relations are important yet rarely discussed publicly. Studies like this one are important for making couples aware of what can affect their sex lives, both positively and negatively. The happier couples are with their sex lives, the happier they’re going to be within that relationship and as individuals. It’s sex as preventative medicine – and who doesn’t love that thought?

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