How important is sexual spontaneity? According to new research, people tend to believe that spontaneous sexual activity is better than pre-planned sex. But the study, published in The Journal of Sex Research, found sex that occurs in “the spur of the moment” isn’t necessarily more satisfying than sex that has been scheduled in advance.
“We were interested in studying this topic because one common notion in Western culture is that sex is more satisfying when it happens spontaneously versus when it is planned,” said study author Kat Kova, a registered psychotherapist and PhD student at York University.
“Yet, despite spontaneity being idealized in popular culture, media and the Western psyche, there may be times in relationships where spontaneity is much more challenging, such as when health and mobility challenges arise, with the birth of a new child, or during busy periods at work.”
“Clinicians helping people overcome sexual challenges often suggest an intentional approach to facilitating sexual activity, which may involve some degree of discussion or planning ahead of time, and this likely runs counter to people’s beliefs about what makes for satisfying sex, but these ideas have rarely been empirically studied.”
The researchers first conducted an initial cross-sectional study to explore spontaneous vs. planned sex. They recruited people from the United States through a website called Amazon Mechanical Turk in June 2016. The people who participated in the study had to be at least 18 years old, in a romantic relationship where they lived together, and had engaged in sexual activity with their partner in the last four weeks. The researchers ended up with 303 people who met these criteria and participated in the study.
Kova and her colleagues developed a scale to measure beliefs about spontaneous and planned sex in which participants were presented with six statements. The participants had to say how much they agreed or disagreed with each statement, using a seven-point scale that ranged from “Strongly disagree” to “Strongly agree.”
Three statements were about spontaneous sex (e.g. “Sex with my partner is most satisfying when it occurs spontaneously”), while the other three statements were about planned sex (e.g. “It helps ignite desire if sex with my partner is arranged ahead of time”).
The participants then completed assessments of general sexual satisfaction, sexual desire, and sexual distress. They also completed assessments regarding their last sexual encounter. Additionally, the researchers asked the participants an open-ended question regarding how they felt spontaneous or planned sex affected how much they enjoyed sex.
The researchers found that participants who believed that spontaneous sex was satisfying were more likely to be sexually satisfied. But believing that planned sex was satisfying was unrelated to sexual satisfaction.
“However, surprisingly, when we asked about people’s last sexual experience, having spontaneous sex was not related to reporting greater sexual satisfaction, even for those who more strongly endorsed spontaneous sex,” Kova noted.
After examining the participants’ written answers, the researchers found that people generally thought that spontaneous sex was more satisfying. But there were times when either spontaneous or planned sex can increase or decrease satisfaction. For example, one participant wrote: “With our busy schedules, we tend to plan ahead of time. This enhances the experience for me because it creates a great amount of anticipation.” And for some people, spontaneity neither contributed to or detracted from their satisfaction.
For their second study, Kova and her colleagues wanted to see if people’s beliefs about spontaneous and planned sex affected their sexual satisfaction over a 21-day period. They recruited 121 couples from Canada and the United States who were at least 18 years old, lived together or saw each other often, were sexually active in their relationship, could read and understand English, and had daily access to a computer with internet.
The participants first completed baseline assessments of spontaneous vs. planned sex beliefs, sexual satisfaction, sexual desire, and sexual distress.
The researchers asked the couples every day if they had sex with their partner that day. If they said yes, participants were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 7 how much they agreed with the statements “The sexual experience was planned ahead of time” and “The sexual experience happened spontaneously.” The researchers also asked them each day to rate how satisfied they were with the sex and how much they desired it.
“Across both studies, as predicted, we found that people endorsed spontaneous sex to a greater degree than they did planned sex,” Kova said.
Unlike their first study, however, in their second study the researchers found no connection between a person’s beliefs about spontaneous/planned sex and their sexual satisfaction, both in general and in daily life,
The researchers also did not find an association between a person’s perception of sex as more spontaneous or planned on days that they had sex, and their sexual satisfaction. This was true regardless of their general beliefs about spontaneous and planned sex. Additionally, they did not find any differences based on sexual desire, sexual distress, or gender.
“So largely, even though people believed spontaneous sex was more satisfying, the results from our study did not seem to support that it’s true,” Kova said.
The findings indicate “that planning can be just as sexy as spontaneous sex,” Kova told PsyPost. “We lead busy lives that don’t often leave a whole lot of room for spontaneous things to happen. We have many roles, responsibilities, challenging times in our lives that eat up a lot of our time and energy. People often wait until the end of the day to have sex after the kids are put to bed/work is done (may not have enough energy or time to really make it a great experience).”
“People forget that most of the rewarding things in our life involve some planning, such as booking flights, hotels and transportation when taking a vacation, working towards having a fulfilling career, and engaging in new activities and experiences. Planning allows us to create the right conditions and environments for people to feel relaxed, and have enough privacy. My advice would be to discuss what helps to facilitate feelings of relaxation and desire and work together to set the right context for sexy things to happen.”
But the study, like all research, includes some caveats.
“The generalizability of our findings is limited given that our initial studies were conducted with individuals and couples who identified as mostly heterosexual and reported a binary gender (i.e., men and women; our assessment of gender conflated sex and gender, two concepts that are importantly distinct),” Kova told PsyPost.
“Future research is needed to determine whether the results are generalizable to individuals of all genders and sexual orientations, as well as more diverse relationship structures. Further, our participants reported generally high sexual satisfaction, so more work is needed in clinical samples facing sexual challenges, in which sexual planning is commonly used as a treatment intervention.”
“The findings may have implications for future research on shifting people’s beliefs about sexual spontaneity and planning, perhaps most importantly within clinical samples coping with a sexual challenge, but research with this population is needed,” Kova added.
The study, “Is Spontaneous Sex Ideal? Beliefs and Perceptions of Spontaneous and Planned Sex and Sexual Satisfaction in Romantic Relationships“, was authored by Katarina Kovacevic, Eric Tu, Natalie O. Rosen, Stephanie Raposo, and Amy Muise.