Psychologists find your mindset is linked to a better or worse sex life

Psychologists in Hungary have found evidence that your mindset influences your sexual well-being. The study, published in the scientific journal Personality and Individual Differences, uncovered that people who believed they had the power to change their sex life tended to be happier with their romantic situation.

“In 2015, our research team has started to collaborate with researchers from the Dweck-Walton lab at Stanford University and I got to know the concept of implicit theories (or mindsets) of attributes more deeply,” explained the study’s corresponding author, Beáta Bőthe of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. “Based on these implicit theories or mindsets, people construct different assumptions about the malleability of attributes.”

“For example, in the case of intelligence, individuals characterized by fixed mindset believe that their intelligence is like a stone: stable and cannot change over time. On the other hand, individuals with growth mindset believe that they can change their intelligence: it can grow over time like a tree (Dweck, 2012).”

“People’s beliefs about the malleability of intelligence can play an important part in making more efforts and trying out new strategies in challenging situations in order to develop their intelligence (Dweck, 2012; Paunesku et al., 2015), which in turn can lead to better cognitive skills, higher levels of challenge-seeking and motivation (Claro et al., 2016; Schroder et al., 2014),” Bőthe said.

“Besides intelligence, research on relationship mindset has evolved and demonstrated that soulmate theorists—who have a fixed relationship mindset—are less satisfied with their relationships and have a harder time dealing with negative events than work-it-out theorists—who have a growth relationship mindset (Franiuk et al., 2002; Knee et al., 2001). Considering this scientific basis, we started to think about sexuality-related mindset beliefs.”

“We supposed that sex mindset can be similar to relationship mindset, but in this case not only relationship satisfaction but other aspects (such as sexual satisfaction) can be affected,” Bőthe said. “Meanwhile, we started to investigate the problematic and non-problematic aspects of online pornography use and our research team thought that the associations of pornography and beliefs about the changeability of sexual life are worth research and scientific attention.”

“Therefore, we investigated whether beliefs about the changeability of sexual life could play an important role in problematic pornography use beside relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction.”

In their study, which included 1,544 Hungarian participants, they developed and validated the Sex Mindset Scale (SMS) to measure people’s beliefs regarding the changeability of their sexual life. Their survey asked participants how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “Your sexual life is something about you that you can’t change very much.”

The researchers found that those with a growth sex mindset were more likely to report higher levels of relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction than those with a fixed set mindset.

“In my opinion, the main take-home message from this study is that having a belief that we can always change makes a difference,” Bőthe told PsyPost. “In this study, we emphasized that holding a growth sexual belief underscoring that it is possible to improve our sexual life has a great positive impact not only directly on our relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction but through the reduction of problematic pornography use as well.”

“So, the main message of this research is the belief that we can change our sexual life has manifold benefits. Therefore, the main message of this research can be summarized into one item of our sex mindset scale: ‘It doesn’t matter who you are you can always change a lot about your sexual life.'”

The researchers found that problematic pornography use was weakly linked to lower levels of relationship and sexual satisfaction. But sex mindset beliefs had a stronger link to relationship and sexual satisfaction than pornography, suggesting it could have a protective effect. “Instead of overemphasizing the harmful consequences of pornography use it might be more useful to claim attention to growth sex mindset beliefs,” the study concluded.

Bőthe cautions that their findings are preliminary.

“This study aimed to introduce a new construct, therefore there are many limitations,” she explained. “In the present research, we used cross-sectional data, therefore, we cannot infer causality; however, Maxwell et al. (2017) found similar results in their experimental study which further validate our results.”

“However, other constructs (e.g., general need satisfaction) can have a potential effect on the associations between sex mindset beliefs, problematic pornography use, relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction which need to be examined in future cross-sectional and experimental studies. Similarly, we do not know what is going on in the brain if one has either fixed or growth sex mindset beliefs. Future neuroscience studies could be fruitful in investigating the neural correlates of growth vs. fixed sex mindset.”

“In the future, we would like to construct an intervention program to reduce problematic pornography use in which we would like to complement the previously effective intervention strategies (e.g., cognitive behavior therapy elements or acceptance and commitment therapy elements) with the framework of growth mindset sex beliefs,” Bőthe added.

The study, titled “The pervasive role of sex mindset: Beliefs about the malleability of sexual life is linked to higher levels of relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction and lower levels of problematic pornography use“, was also co-authored by István Tóth-Király, Zsolt Demetrovics and Gábor Orosz.