Turns Out, There's A Link Between Gratitude & Better Sex
Gratitude practices are all the rage these days, and for good reason. Research continues to unearth more and more benefits of gratitude, from relieving stress to improving sleep. The latest addition to the list? Better sex among couples.
A study1 published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal found that the more people experience and receive gratitude in their relationships, the more likely they are to be invested in their partner's sexual pleasure—leading to more mutual sexual satisfaction overall.
What makes us motivated to meet each other's needs?
A team of researchers wanted to see if gratitude could improve something called sexual communal strength, which is the degree to which a person is motivated to meet their partner's sexual needs. People high in sexual communal strength genuinely care about their partner's pleasure and meeting their partner's needs, and past research has shown folks with higher sexual communal strength tend to have happier relationships and more sexually satisfying ones. Some studies have even found people with higher sexual communal strength tend to have more sexual desire in general and an easier time getting aroused.
So, how do you increase this coveted quality of sexual communal strength? The researchers' theory: more gratitude.
The team—including psychologists Ashlyn Brady, Levi R. Baker, Amy Muise, and Emily Impett—tested this theory out over the course of three separate studies.
In one study, the researchers surveyed 185 people in relationships about their sexual communal strength, their experiences of gratitude toward their partner, and the expressions of gratitude they received from their partner. Lo and behold, people who'd had more gratitude in the relationship (both felt and received) tended to have more sexual communal strength.
In another study, they had 118 couples track these gratitude experiences and their levels of sexual communal strength over the course of three months. As the researchers periodically checked in with the couples, they found both experiencing and receiving gratitude was associated with improvements in sexual communal strength over time.
In a third study, they wanted to see if gratitude would cause an increase in sexual communal strength (as opposed to just correlation). So they asked 203 people in relationships to journal about one of four things: a recent experience of having gratitude for their partner, a recent experience of receiving gratitude from their partner, a recent enjoyable experience that had nothing to do with their partner, or a recent neutral experience related to their partner. After the writing exercise, everybody was surveyed about their sexual communal strength—and once again, those who'd journaled about a gratitude experience (whether giving or receiving) reported higher communal strength than the folks who journaled about other things.
Gratitude is a turn-on.
If gratitude helps boost sexual communal strength, and sexual communal strength boosts both partners' sexual satisfaction, then it's reasonable to assume gratitude could be a key ingredient to mutually satisfying sex in a relationship.
"Gratitude is a positively valenced emotion that arises in response to the recognition that another person has been beneficial or valuable to them," Brady and her colleagues write in the paper on their findings. "Gratitude functions to motivate people to maintain relationships with valuable others. The current studies extend this growing body of literature to the sexual domain by revealing that gratitude similarly motivates people to meet their partner's sexual needs."
The takeaway? Couples working on improving their sex life might benefit from adopting a regular gratitude practice, including both individually journaling about why they're grateful for each other and sharing that appreciation for each other openly. (Now, of course, this only works if this gratitude is authentic and without ulterior motives. And likewise, our motivation to support each other's pleasure must come out of authentic enthusiasm and not pressure.)
When we're grateful for our relationship, we're naturally more enthusiastic about doing all the things that keep it healthy and strong—such as having a good sex life. We pay more attention to our partner's sexual needs and care more about meeting them, and we find ourselves feeling more sexually fulfilled in the process.
Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.
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