- Having a strong relationship, and generally being happy with your life, lead to a better sex life.
- Healthy sexual function is an important part of sexual satisfaction.
- Many of the variables tied to sexual satisfaction are things that can be improved.
Everyone wants a good sex life. But what leads to greater sexual satisfaction? Many research studies have explored this question. Here are some of the most consistent findings. (Most of the data are from heterosexual couples.)
- Happier relationship. Sex is better when you and your partner generally get along and are satisfied with your relationship (Freihart et al., 2020).
- Better sexual communication. You and your partner speak openly about your sexual wants and needs. The quality of sexual communication seems to be more important than the frequency (Mallory, 2022). Communication appears to help both by creating intimacy and by helping partners meet each other's sexual needs.
- Less pornography consumption. People who look at pornography often cite positive effects, for example, an increase in sexual skill or imagination. However, the authors of a meta-analysis on this topic suggest that this benefit might be wishful thinking (Wright et al., 2017); research consistently shows that consuming pornography leads to lower sexual satisfaction, both for the person viewing pornography and for their partner. However, the correlation between pornography use and sexual satisfaction is higher for men than for women.
- Frequent hugging and kissing. Non-sexual physical intimacy is linked to more satisfying sex. Kissing and cuddling after sex also lead to a happier sex life (Freihart et al., 2020).
- Greater intimacy. Not surprisingly, feeling close to your partner is associated with greater sexual satisfaction. Research has found that on days when couples feel more emotionally intimate with their partner, they are more satisfied with their sex lives (Rubin & Campbell, 2012).
- More frequent sex. Frequency of sex is one of the strongest predictors of sexual satisfaction (Freihart et al., 2020); couples who stop having sex as often tend to become less satisfied with their sex life.
- Variety. However, it’s not just the frequency of sex that matters; variety has also been shown to be important. Couples who share different types of sex (intercourse, oral) report higher sexual satisfaction on average.
- Equality in sex initiation. Sexual satisfaction goes down when one partner is always the one to initiate sex. In these relationships, there may be unhelpful beliefs about sex (the man should always initiate) or a mismatch in sexual desire.
- Compatibility. On a related note, couples who have similar turn-offs and turn-ons (enjoying “talking dirty” during sex) tend to be more sexually satisfied.
- Healthy sexual function. Problems with sexual dysfunction, such as pain during sex or difficulty maintaining an erection, lead to lower sexual satisfaction. Unfortunately, sexual dysfunction in one partner tends to have strong effects on sexual satisfaction in both partners (Freihart et al., 2020).
- Consistent orgasm. Not surprisingly, reaching orgasm is a significant predictor of a satisfying sex life. Importantly it also matters whether one’s partner values your reaching orgasm, which makes sex more satisfying probably due to the positive effects on partner intimacy and trust.
- Life satisfaction. Finally, a happy life and a happy sex life tend to go hand in hand (Velten & Margraf, 2017). These two variables have reciprocal effects such that life satisfaction leads to sexual satisfaction and vice versa.
If you’re unhappy with your sex life, these variables suggest some possible ways to improve it. For example, explore more open communication with your partner about sex, reduce or eliminate pornography from your life, and think about adding a bit of variety in the bedroom. Working on the overall quality of your relationship is also likely to contribute to a more satisfying sexual relationship.
Keep in mind that improving your sex life might seem very unsexy, as you work on things like general well-being and nonsexual intimacy. Here's a quick way to get started (adapted from Mindful Cognitive Behavioral Therapy):
- The next time you're with your partner, really take them in.
- Notice their eyes, their hair, and the way they move and speak.
- You don’t have to try to feel anything specific or profound. Just observe the person in front of you.
You might also consider seeing a therapist who works with couples on sexual issues; you can search the Psychology Today directory for someone close to you.
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Freihart, B. K., Sears, M. A., & Meston, C. M. (2020). Relational and interpersonal predictors of sexual satisfaction. Current Sexual Health Reports, 12, 136-142.
Gillihan, S. J. (2022). Mindful cognitive behavioral therapy: A simple path to healing, hope, and peace. (HarperOne).
Mallory, A. B. (2022). Dimensions of couples’ sexual communication, relationship satisfaction, and sexual satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Journal of Family Psychology, 36, 358-371.
Rubin, H., & Campbell, L. (2012). Day-to-day changes in intimacy predict heightened relationship passion, sexual occurrence, and sexual satisfaction: A dyadic diary analysis. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 224-231.
Velten, J., & Margraf, J. (2017). Satisfaction guaranteed? How individual, partner, and relationship factors impact sexual satisfaction within partnerships. PloS One, 12, e0172855.
Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., Kraus, A., & Klann, E. (2017). Pornography consumption and satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Human Communication Research, 43, 315-343.