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Should You Change Your Sexual Habits for Your Partner?

How sexual compromise can enhance relationship satisfaction

Over the course of a romantic relationship, there are bound to be times when your sexual interests diverge from your partner’s interests. Perhaps you enjoy having sex at night, but your partner prefers morning sex. Maybe you desire sex about once or twice a week, but your partner would like to have sex once or twice a day. Or maybe you fantasize about being tied to the bedpost, but bondage is not one of your partner’s sexual fantasies. Although a satisfying sex life is an important part of overall relationship happiness,1,2 sex can also be one of the most challenging issues to negotiate in a romantic relationship.2 Romantic partners may disagree on when to have sex, how often to have it, and what those sexual activities involve. If romantic partners have differing sexual interests, what can they do?

A recent study suggests that, at times, changing sexual habits (or making sexual transformations) for a partner can benefit the relationship.3 Specifically, researchers asked romantic couples how often they made sexual changes for their partners (e.g., had sex more frequently than personally desired or engaged in activities that were not their preference), and how they felt about making these sexual changes. People who made more frequent sexual changes for their partners had partners who reported being more satisfied in their relationships. In addition, people who felt more positive about changing their sexual habits for a partner felt happier in their relationships and had partners who reported greater happiness as well.

All study participants also indicated their current level of intimacy in the relationship (i.e., their perceptions of how often their partner hugged, kissed and cuddled them). Interestingly, making more frequent sexual changes for a partner was especially beneficial for people who perceived low vs. high levels of affection from their partner. It seems that in relationships where there is less physical affection (which is typically linked with lower relationship satisfaction), making more sexual changes for a partner can protect against the negative consequences typically associated with lacking physical affection.4 Making more sexual changes for a partner may create additional opportunities for closeness in a relationship, which is particularly important for couples who are less affectionate.

It is not clear from these findings why making sexual changes for a partner is beneficial. It may be that people who make more frequent sexual transformations are simply engaging in more frequent sex, which is linked to relationship satisfaction. It is also possible that people may sense their partner’s efforts to meet their sexual needs, and feel more relationship satisfaction because their partner is making those efforts. Either way, these findings provide some additional evidence that being GGG is beneficial in romantic relationships and suggest that even if you prefer having sex at bedtime, you might want to take one for the team and engage in morning sex every so often.

This post was originally written for the website Science of Relationships.

1Byers, E. S. (2005). Relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction: A longitudinal study of individuals in long-term relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 42, 113-118. doi: 10.1080/00224490509552264

2Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J. H., Michael, R. T., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

3Burke . J., & Young, V. J. (2012). Sexual transformations and intimate behaviors in romantic relationships.Journal of Sex Research, 49, 454-463.

4Risch, G. S., Riley, L. A., & Lawler, M. G. (2003). Problematic issues in the early years of marriage: Content for premarital education. Journal of Psychology & Theology, 31, 253–270.

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