Being Good in Bed Is Tied to an Unexpected Personality Trait
People who rate high in conscientiousness have fewer sexual problems and more satisfying sex lives, according to a new study.
This article originally appeared on Tonic.
Your personality says a lot about your sex life. From your openness to trying to new things to how outgoing you are, personality traits can reveal what you’re into and how things are going in bed.
Even traits that might not appear to be all that “sexy” can have an impact on your sex life, including one trait known as conscientiousness. This trait involves being very detail-oriented and organized. Conscientious people have a tendency to plan and schedule everything—including sex—which makes them very dependable.
Intuitively, many of you might think that people who are hung up on organization and planning would make for worse lovers. After all, good sex is supposed to be spontaneous and surprising. A growing amount of research, however, suggests that people high in conscientiousness have fewer sexual problems, more satisfying sex, and maybe even more sex than other people. Let’s take a look at the evidence.
A new study published in the Journal of Sex Research looked at the Big Five—the five basic dimensions of personality, of which conscientiousness is one—in relation to sexual functioning in couples. It turned out that conscientiousness was the only one of these five factors that predicted sexual function in both women and men. Specifically, men who were high in conscientiousness reported fewer erectile problems, while women high in conscientiousness reported fewer problems with sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm, as well as less pain during sex.
These findings are consistent with the results of a meta-analysis of the Big Five that came out earlier this year, in which a link also emerged between being high in conscientiousness and having fewer sexual difficulties. This meta-analysis also found that conscientious people were more sexually satisfied.
I found similar results when I surveyed more than 4,000 Americans about their sexual fantasies for my book Tell Me What You Want . Again, conscientious people had fewer sexual problems as well as more satisfying sex lives and relationships. Interestingly, I found that they had sex more often, too. The results of my research suggest a potential explanation for all of this: People high in conscientiousness were more likely to share their sex fantasies with their partners and, further, they reported more positive experiences when it came to acting out their fantasies in real life.
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Why were conscientious people more successful in making the leap from fantasy to reality? Perhaps because of all of that attention to detail. The higher in conscientiousness people were, the more detailed and specific their fantasies. They spent more time describing what might be viewed as extraneous detail in the eyes of others, like the setting in which their fantasy took place. Conscientious people’s fantasies were also more realistic in the sense that they fantasized more often about their current partners and they were less likely to fantasize about changing themselves. In other words, they were less likely to want a different partner and to change their own body or personality.
The fact that conscientious people think their fantasies through very carefully is probably what accounts for why they tend to have better experiences acting on them—they’re less likely to be caught off guard because they’ve already planned for the unexpected. Also, the fact that their fantasies are more grounded in reality to begin with probably makes them easier to fulfill. And if they’re fulfilling their desires more often than everyone else, this is going to amp up their sexual enjoyment.
Given the greater care and effort conscientious people put into constructing and acting on their sex fantasies, it’s not a stretch to suggest that they’re likely to put more effort into their sex lives and relationships overall. Perhaps they pay more attention to fulfilling their partners’ sexual requests and desires on a day-to-day basis. And maybe they make more of an effort to maintain a sex schedule so as not to let things slip.
To be clear, if you aren’t a conscientious person by nature, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doomed to a lifetime of bad sex. Most of the associations here are small and it would be silly to suggest that any single trait or characteristic dictates one’s entire sex life—there’s a whole constellation of factors at work, of which being a “details person” is just one.
Being conscientious simply means that you might have a small leg up when it comes to sex; however, we might be able to level the playing field to some extent. People’s personalities can and do change over the course of their lives, and research suggests that we might be able to give them a nudge through self-development exercises. So far, the emerging literature on personality change has focused on implications for the workplace, but it’s likely that these benefits would extend to other areas, including our sex lives.
With all of that said, the bottom line is that it’s time to reconsider how we think about conscientiousness in relation to sex. Being detail oriented and regimented isn’t a bad thing in the bedroom—in fact, being a scheduler just might be kind of sexy.
Justin Lehmiller is a research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of the blog Sex and Psychology. His latest book is Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. Follow him on Twitter @JustinLehmiller.