Study reveals which ‘Big Five’ personality traits predict frequency of sex in newlyweds

Two personality traits of wives — but not husbands — predict the frequency of sex in newlywed couples, according to a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality.

The research by Andrea L. Meltzer and James K. McNulty of Florida State University was based on the widely recognized “Big Five” personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Their study found that wives’ agreeableness and openness predicted a greater probability of sex in early marriage.

The researchers combined data from three independent studies of newlywed couples. The 278 newlywed heterosexual couples in the studies completed a psychological test to assess their personality before keeping a 14-day diary about their marital life — including their sexual activity. All of the couples had been married for less than six months.

Meltzer and McNulty found that the couples had sex three or four times on average over the 14 days.

The researchers found no link between husbands’ personality traits and the frequency of sex. But they did find that wives with a higher level of agreeableness tended to have sex more often. Wives with a higher level of openness also tended to have sex more often, although this relationship was weaker than with agreeableness. People high in agreeableness are more trusting, helpful and compassionate, people high in openness are more curious and willing to try new things.

“No prior research has examined the association between partners’ Big Five traits and daily reports of sexual activity so we were hesitant to make specific predictions. It was somewhat surprising, however, that husbands’ Big Five did not predict couples’ sexual frequency,” Meltzer told PsyPost.

The findings, Meltzer and McNulty wrote in their study, suggest “that it is women’s, rather than men’s, personality that predicts the probability of sex in relationships.” They noted that previous research indicates men are more likely to initiate sex, but women have been described as the “gatekeepers” of sexual activity.

The first two studies the researchers looked at, which included 218 couples, also examined the relationship between personality traits and sexual satisfaction.

The personality of the participants’ partner didn’t impact their sexual satisfaction, but their own personality did. Both husbands and wives low in neuroticism, meaning they had a reduced tendency to experience stress and anxiety, tended to be more satisfied with the sex they had. Surprisingly, husbands low in openness also tended to be more satisfied.