New research casts doubt on belief that spontaneous sex is better

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Two studies published in the Journal of Sex Research by PhD student Katarina Kovacevic and Professor of psychology Amy Muise reveals planned sex can be as satisfying as unplanned sex.

The idea that spur-of-the-moment sex is the most passionate and satisfying is deeply ingrained in popular Western imagination, but new research from a York University student and a professor in the Faculty of Health calls this into question. In a new study, the researchers found that planning ahead can be just as sexy as sex that “just happens.”

York PhD student Katarina Kovacevic
Katarina Kovacevic

“There can be a lot of resistance to asking clients to talk about and plan sex more, to work as a sexual team. I think it’s because of what we see in the media, but the funny thing about that is there’s so much planning that goes into those scenes – a whole production team is there, actors memorize their lines,” says Kovacevic, a PhD student at York’s Sexual Health and Relationship Laboratory and registered psychotherapist specializing in romantic relationships and sexual issues.

“What our new study found was that while many people do endorse the ideal of spontaneous sex, there was no difference in their reported satisfaction of their last actual sexual encounter – whether it was planned or unplanned.”

For this research, published Feb. 13, in the Journal of Sex Research, two studies were conducted by Kovacevic, her supervisor Muise, and their collaborators. The first looked at more than 300 individuals in romantic relationships and asked them questions via an online survey. The second, had more than a hundred couples respond for three weeks to daily surveys about their romantic and sex lives. In both cases, they wanted to look at people’s beliefs about planned versus spontaneous sex, but also if these beliefs would translate into satisfaction with actual sexual encounters.

Psychology professor Amy Muise
Amy Muise

In the first part of the study, they did find that endorsing the idea of spontaneous sex being better did correlate with reported satisfaction. While in the second study, when looking at participants’ last sexual encounter, they found there was no difference in how satisfying a sexual encounter was reported to be – based on whether it was planned or happened spontaneously – regardless of people’s beliefs.

“Generally, we did find that people endorsed the spontaneous sex ideal,” says Muise. “But, despite these beliefs, across our two studies we did not find strong support that people actually experience spontaneous sex as more satisfying than planned sex.”

Kovacevic says when therapists like herself talk about planned sex, they don’t necessarily mean scheduling it, and while planning sex may seem like a chore to some, anticipation can also sometimes lead to desire.

“When we suggest that couples or other romantic configurations carve out that time, we’re not necessarily saying you put it into a calendar – like 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, after putting dinner in the oven and before folding the socks,” she says. “But the intentionality behind it can be transformative in the sense that we don’t wait around for the right moment, because sometimes the mood just never strikes, really, for some people, and that might deter them.”

Additionally, Muise and Kovacevic remind us of how much planning goes into the important and enjoyable aspects of our lives, like going on vacation or pursuing a rewarding career. There is no reason sex cannot be the same. Since sex is important to many people, and has numerous health and relationship benefits, it makes sense to prioritize and approach sex in the same way.

Kovacevic says expectations for sex during holidays, anniversaries and birthdays can lead to folks feeling pressure; instead, she recommends that romantic partners plan to regularly spend quality time together, without distractions, to keep the spark alive.