In a memorable episode of the television series “Sex and the City,” Carrie admits to being completely in love with her new boyfriend, Jack Berger. “It’s all fresh, it’s all novelty, it’s all foreplay,” she says.
“Even a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond (a store) can be exhilarating… And of course those first kisses are the best in the world.”
The first two times they have sex, however, Carrie finds the experience distinctly disappointing.
“LeavesitSamantha advises Carrie.
Titled “Great Expectations,” the episode caught the attention of psychologist Jessica Maxwell, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
“It took me by surprise that the characters assumed that sex should be relatively easy and that they would be so willing to throw in the towel on a relationship if the sex is bad,” he says.
However, her conversations with her friends indicated that many people in real life take Samantha’s attitude.
That led Maxwell to investigate the ways that our beliefs can influence our intimate relationships in the short and long term.
On the one hand, there is the “sexual growth mindset“, the belief that satisfaction requires effort and work. On the other hand, there is the “sexual destiny mentality“: the idea that natural compatibility between sexual partners is the key factor that allows couples to maintain sexual satisfaction, which means that any effort at a sexual relationship may indicate that the relationship is destined for failure.
In a series of studies, Maxwell found that these mindsets can dictate how people deal with problems in the bedroom, with huge consequences for the quality of their relationships.
His research suggests that by building more constructive “sexual expectations,” we could all enjoy a healthier, happier love life.
Maxwell’s findings join a growing body of literature examining the effects of mindsets in many different areas of life.
The most famous studies come from Carol Dweck at Stanford University. In decades of research, she has examined whether people believe that academic ability is fixed and cannot be changed, or whether they see their abilities as something that can grow with practice.
In general, people with a growth mindset seem more willing to take on new challenges and are better able to handle setbacks.
And attempts to promote growth mindsets, applied in a supportive educational environment, seem increase overall student achievement, so that the children with difficulties can better reach their potential.
Inspired by Dweck’s findings, psychologists around the world have now explored the role of mindset in many other domains, including people’s health and fitness behavior, passion in the workplace, and the strength of your relationships couple.
As interesting as these studies were, the focus of the latest one had been on the romantic side rather than the physical side of the relationship. Maxwell suspected that our attitudes toward sex might be just as important.
To find out, he devised scales to measure “sexual destiny mindset” and “sexual growth mindset.”
The first focused on the belief that sexual compatibility is instantaneous and reflects the overall suitability of your partner, through statements such as “If sexual partners are meant to be together, sex will be easy and wonderful” and “It’s clear from the beginning how satisfying a couple’s sex life will be throughout their relationship.
Sexual growth mindset, by contrast, was measured through agreement with statements such as “Compromising for a partner is part of a good sexual relationship” and “A successful sexual relationship is partly a matter of learning to work out differences sex with a partner.
In a series of studies, Maxwell and his colleagues confirmed that people’s sexual mindset influenced their sexual satisfaction and the overall quality of their relationship beyond their romantic mindset.
The sexual destiny mindset was especially important when couples faced disagreements about their sex lives.
“Leave that what happens in the bedroom affects their opinions General about the relationshipMaxwell says.
Stronger endorsement of sexual growth beliefs, by contrast, tended to produce happier relationships, in and out of the bedroom.
Next, Maxwell wanted to know how variations in mentality affected people’s daily sexual lives.
He asked the participants to complete a diary for three weeks, which allowed him to track changes in people’s mindsets and the overall quality of their sexual experiences.
“We found that greater support for the belief that ‘sex takes work’ on any given day, trawent Benefits“, He says.
As further evidence, Maxwell explored the ways in which sexual mindsets influenced couples’ transition to parenthood, an event known to wreak havoc on sexual relationships.
In line with previous findings, growth beliefs predicted greater satisfaction for both the individual and their partner during this difficult time. High destiny beliefs, by contrast, resulted in considerably less satisfaction.
Maxwell and his colleagues have now replicated these findings in other contexts, and he is pleased to see that many other researchers are now investigating the importance of mindset in our sexual relationships.
They have shown, for example, that mindset influences how well people cope with low sexual desire and communication between partners about their sexual needs.
In the future, could this research provide new interventions for couples with difficulties?
So far, there is some evidence that mindsets are malleable, at least temporarily.
In a recent study from the University of Minnesota Duluth, USA, researchers asked some participants to read a (fake) news article, which emphasized the idea that love can flourish with hard work, text which was designed to fuel a romantic growth mindset.
They were then asked about their attitudes toward various types of perceived infidelity, from flirting with someone to cybersex to direct sexual contact. People primed with the growth mindset tended to adopt more forgiving attitudes.
Maxwell conducted a similar experiment using articles that attempted to manipulate people’s sexual mindsets.
An article promoting sexual growth mindset increased participants’ willingness to accommodate their partner’s sexual needs, Maxwell found.
Maxwell emphasizes that these are preliminary findings of short-term manipulation, but is optimistic that growth mindset education could help couples therapy.
“I think it would involve multiple exposures to the idea,” he says, and thinks couples would need encouragement to apply what they’ve learned.
He also points to a study that asked couples to watch movies depicting relationship problems, before reflecting on the content and describing how the same lessons could be applied to their own lives – a surprisingly simple intervention that significantly reduced divorce rates over a period of three years.
“It was essentially as effective as regular couples therapy“, he highlights, adding that he would be interested to see if the same method could be applied, but with an additional focus on the mindsets that characters reveal and the effects it has on relationships.
You could ask couples to spot when characters fail to communicate their needs because of their destiny mindset, for example, and to suggest ways that fictional couples could use a growth mindset to deal with problems more constructively.
In that case, maybe it’s worth rewatching those “Sex and the City” episodes.
* This article was originally published in English by BBC Worklifand. Click hereto read the original article.
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