10 things we learned about relationships in 2016
Couples who watch porn together, stay together: that’s one relationship lesson of 2016.
As we review the year that was, we thought it’d be fun to recap the top takeaways about all things related to sex and coupledom.
So we turned to sexologist Jessica O’Reilly, who is the queen of dishing out relationship advice. She shared a handful of her favourite findings that came out this year, and we rounded out the list with a few of our own.
1. Believing in soulmates can kill your relationship
If you’ve been in a relationship, chances are there’s always been something about your partner you found a little less than perfect.
“Almost none of us are going to get our ideal partners,” psychology researcher Daniel Conroy-Beam of the University of Texas told us in May.
The good news is science shows you don’t need someone who checks all the boxes to have a happy and long-lasting partnership.
A University of Toronto study released last month found those who acknowledge the hard work it takes to have a satisfying sex life will be better off than those who believe in sexual “destiny.”
“Sexual destiny” is the assumption you’re just “out of luck” if you don’t find a suitable partner, O’Reilly explained. It’s like washing your hands of any accountability for how things are going. This group is less likely to be satisfied with a relationship, according to the U of T researchers, because they use their sex life “as a barometer” for its success.
Those who follow the “sexual growth” philosophy, on the other hand, believe they can work on their sexual problems and don’t let them sway their relationship satisfaction.
“You have to put time and effort in,” O’Reilly said.
WATCH: Is your long-term relationship killing your sex life?
She brought up another study from this past January that showed what researchers have been warning us about for ages: passion doesn’t last.
Sexual satisfaction peaks, on average, between six to 12 months. Then it steadily declines, O’Reilly notes.
“If you want passion in your relationship, you need to recreate the environment and experiences you underwent during the early days of your relationship,” she said.
To keep things fresh and exciting O’Reilly suggests: going to new places, trying new things, spending more time apart, and creating a bit of mystery so your partner doesn’t know everything about you.
2. People are getting lazier with dating
Finding love online can sometimes feel like a full-time job.
Not everyone has the time, energy, or desire to spend hours swiping left on dating apps. So they get someone to do it for them.
Katerina Lyadova, a 30-year-old from Toronto, decided to “outsource” her dating life to an assistant for $12 an hour this year.
Anne Marshall gets paid anywhere from $175 to $500 to help singles like Lyadova find love. Marshall runs a stealth matchmaking service from her home in Guelph, Ont., where she spends hours impersonating her clients on dating sites.
“I am an assistive device for the dating disabled,” the 44-year-old told us in January.
She’s had a solid success rate so far, with “people moving in together, one marriage… and a couple of babies.”
3. Cheating is more common than we’d like to believe
We seem to have a “NIMBY approach” to infidelity, O’Reilly said.
She cites a recent survey that found people believe there is a 42 per cent chance of infidelity in an average relationship — yet only a five per cent chance of it happening in their own. Another study last year revealed those in “monogamous” relationships have similar STI rates to those in open relationships.
O’Reilly believes that’s likely because “those in open relationships are more likely to practice safer sex; in monogamous relationships, when a partner cheats, they may be less likely to use condoms.”
“We tend to underestimate the likelihood that it will occur in our own relationships,” O’Reilly said. “We put on blinders… as we’re naturally motivated to see our partners as better than average.”
WATCH: How can couples cope with infidelity?
The unfortunate reality is, no one is immune to being cheated on — not even Beyoncé.
While it was never officially confirmed that hubby Jay Z was unfaithful, the lyrics on the Lemonade album she released in April play like a woman who’s been scorned.
Whatever happened between the power couple had experts saying that infidelity doesn’t necessarily need to end a relationship. And if you stay with someone who’s strayed, it doesn’t mean you’re weak.
“In fact, in many cases, I would suggest that the willingness to continue to working through tough times demonstrates the opposite,” O’Reilly said at the time.
She and other experts don’t believe the old saying “once a cheater, always a cheater.” And they stress the person who’s been cheated on isn’t to blame.
O’Reilly mentioned another study which found 56 per cent of men and 34 per cent of women who cheat report being satisfied in their primary relationship.
This past October, she wrote on Post City Toronto about a couple who “affair-proofed” their marriage by being “open about their sexual insecurities and jealousy triggers” and discussing what they want sexually (and how much).
“Because they’re normalizing these conversations now, in the absence of any problems, they’ll be better prepared to address potential issues if they arise in the future,” O’Reilly explained in the post.
4. Men fake orgasms too
Women aren’t the only ones who’ve faked it in bed.
A Canadian study in April claimed as many as 71 per cent of men fake it while in a relationship — as often as one out of every four times they have sex.
How exactly are they able to do that, you ask? Well, those wearing a condom just discard the evidence (or lackthereof) before their partner notices.
“It is very weird,” Léa J. Séguin of the Université du Québec à Montréal admitted then. “But they say they do [fake it] so there’s got to be some way.”
While faking it on the regular isn’t something relationship experts recommend, O’Reilly doesn’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing.
If “your partner is giving, attentive and open-minded and you simply find that you’re too exhausted, stressed, drunk, distracted, depressed or medicated to reach orgasm — and you still want to have sex — a fake orgasm may, in fact, feel good for both of you,” she explained when the study came out.
5. Women getting hands-on in quest for better sex
A growing movement redefining how we view the female orgasm picked up steam this year.
“The more pressure a woman puts on herself, or that a partner puts on her to ‘get there,’ often the more stressed out she is and the less likely that is to happen,” Sarah Barmak writes in her book Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality.
It was released this summer and explores how little has been known (or how much has been misunderstood) about female sexuality.
The book delves into how women are getting in touch with their anatomy — including the site OMGYes, which puts women’s tried, tested and true methods for reaching orgasm literally at their fingertips.
Barmak also talks about orgasm support groups, “yoni” massages that offer women a happy ending for $150 to $200, and an app Happy PlayTime that “gamifies” female masturbation by giving them points every time they do it.
“It’s up to each woman to explore herself and find out what her body likes,” Barkmak explained to us in July.
6. Porn can be good for relationships
This past August, Pamela Anderson — who’s arguably as famous for Baywatch as she is for her sex tape — wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal asking people to “take the pledge” not to indulge in porn.
She decried its “addictive dangers” and called it a “public hazard of unprecedented seriousness.”
O’Reilly does not agree with that assessment. It’s all in how you watch porn, research has shown.
“Couples who watch porn together score higher on sexual and relationship satisfaction rates,” she said.
That’s based on a report published this fall in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions. It showed those who watch pornography alone are less likely to be satisfied with their relationship.
So if you do want to indulge in it, just be honest with your partner and remember that it’s “a form of entertainment, not education,” as O’Reilly said on The Morning Show below.
WATCH: O’Reilly debunks more myths about porn
7. One personality trait in particular can predict sexual frequency
The biggest indicator of how much sex you’ll have after getting married could boil down to the female’s personality type.
In a study from this past May in which newlyweds kept sex journals for 14 days, the couples’ personality traits were aassessed to see where they fit in the “big 5”: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
A woman’s agreeableness was the number one trait to predict the frequency of sex in the relationship (which, on average, was three to four times in two weeks for the newlyweds).
The men’s personality traits didn’t seem to have any bearing on frequency but personality types for both partners did impact satisfaction levels.
Those who scored lower on neuroticism reported higher levels of satisfaction than those who were less open.
O’Reilly mused that might be because they had lower expectations.
8. Men struggle to pick up the signs
Whether they’re single or attached, a lot of men seem to have a tough time deciphering the language of women.
Here’s how O’Reilly summed up a May study on sexual desire:
“Men who are single overestimate women’s interest in them, but men in relationships underestimate how much their partners actually want sex.”
The latter has a positive side, though.
“When you think your partner doesn’t want sex, you work harder to entice them, make them feel wanted and impress them — something that many of us stop doing once we’re in a long-term relationship,” O’Reilly said.
“As the men work to make their partners feel wanted, safe, and loved, their partner’s relationship satisfaction increases alongside sexual frequency.”
9. Sex can be a cause of stress after childbirth
But for the majority of new parents, their sex lives take a nosedive following the birth of a baby.
Natalie Rosen, of Dalhousie University, studied North American couples transitioning into parenthood and pinpointed the top stressors that wreaked havoc on their post-baby sexual intimacy.
Both moms and dads ranked “frequency” (i.e. not having enough sex) near the top of the list. Women were also super preoccupied about their body image, while men’s libido was more likely to be affected by their partner’s mood swings (which commonly occur as post-pregnancy hormones regulate).
Men being too empathetic might sometimes backfire and actually lower a woman’s desire, Rosen found as well.
The solution? Talk about these things with your partner. And remember there are other things you can do besides counting down the days until you have sex.
“Touch, kiss, cuddle, play and try to get some sleep — sleep is more important than sex,” O’Reilly urged in October.
Studies also show “exercise is essential to boosting your mood, improving your sexual response, increasing energy levels, promoting restful sleep and, of course, revving up your libido,” O’Reilly added.
Women should check with their doctor to find out when they can get back to a fitness routine post-pregnancy.
10. Like a fine wine, sex gets better with age
A survey this past May took a peek at what’s going on between the sheets of 2,400 40- to 59-year-olds and found 63 per cent of them think they’re more sexually adventurous than they were a decade ago.
READ MORE: 6 minute trick to sexual satisfaction
Researchers believe this generation benefited from a more sex-positive mindset, along with an increased focus on fitness and health.
“I think sexuality and aging in the media often sort of get the reputation that it’s all downhill from here, and that’s not at all what our findings suggest,” said University of Guelph researcher Robin Milhausen.
“Sexual pleasure doesn’t decrease with age.”
After all, practice makes perfect.Follow @TrishKozicka
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