People tend to have better sexual relationships when their partner believes that a person’s sex life can change for the better over time, according to new research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. The new findings highlight the importance of implicit beliefs about sexuality.
Sexual satisfaction is known to be correlated with a number of important relationship outcomes, such as emotional intimacy and commitment. Study author Rachel Cultice and her colleagues sought to better understand how growth mindsets (which describe the belief that certain traits are malleable rather than permanently fixed) interacted with sexual rejection sensitivity (or the inclination to anxiously anticipate rejection) to predict satisfaction with one’s sex life.
“I am interested in studying ways that people, especially women, can improve their sexual experiences,” explained Cultice, a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University.
For their study, Cultice and her research team had 377 individuals who were in a romantic relationship complete assessments of sexual growth mindset, sexual rejection sensitivity, and sexual satisfaction.
To measure sexual growth mindset, the researchers asked the participants the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “The kind of sexual partner someone is, is something basic about them, and it can’t be changed very much” and “Everyone is a certain kind of sexual partner and there is not much that they can do to really change that.” They were also asked whether they believed their partners would agree or disagree with statements.
Participants who perceived that their partner had a fixed mindset tended to have greater sensitivity to sexual rejection, and those with higher sexual rejection sensitivity tended to have lower sexual satisfaction.
But Cultice and her colleagues noted that perceptions of a sexual partner’s beliefs are not always accurate. To overcome this limitation, the researchers conducted a second study with 104 sexually active couples who had been in a heterosexual relationship for at least four months. Both members of the relationship were instructed to complete survey measures independently from one another.
The findings mostly replicated the results of the initial study. The researchers found that having a partner who had a greater sexual growth mindset was associated with reduced sexual rejection sensitivity for oneself. In addition, women’s sexual rejection sensitivity was associated with lower sexual satisfaction for themselves, but men’s sexual rejection sensitivity was not a significant predictor of their own sexual satisfaction.
“Communication is the key to having a fulfilling sex life,” Cultice told PsyPost. “In this paper, we find that feelings of sexual rejection sensitivity, which is a barrier to sexual communication (e.g., If I suggest we try something new, I am worried about my partner’s response), predict lower sexual satisfaction. Importantly, however, feelings of sexual rejection sensitivity are less likely when a person perceives their sexual partner to believe and a person’s sexual partner actually believes that one’s sex life can change over time (i.e., has a sexual growth mindset).”
“Believing that one’s sex life is ‘set in stone’ can make a partner feel unable to explore new activities in bed. Differently, communicating a less rigid mindset can send a signal to your partner that you are a safe person to explore new activities with, and can bring about a more pleasurable experience.”
The findings are in line with another study, published in the Journal of Sex Research, which found that women with low desire who endorsed growth beliefs about sexual satisfaction tended to report better outcomes one year later.
But as with any study, the new research includes some limitations. “Participants in this study were in mixed-gender relationships (i.e., one man and one woman). Future research must recruit participants that are in same-gender relationships,” Cultice said.
The study, “Sexual growth mindsets and rejection sensitivity in sexual satisfaction“, was authored by Rachel A. Cultice, Diana T. Sanchez, and Analia F. Albuja.