Myth vs Fact, Psychology

Is Sex Better When It’s Spontaneous?

March 14, 2023 by Olivia Adams

Hollywood sex scenes tend to glamorize spontaneous sex. You’ve undoubtedly seen this time and again in the movies and on TV: flirtatious tension starts brewing and then we cut to a scene of two people ripping each others’ clothes off the very first chance they get. It might be in an elevator, storage closet, taxi, or immediately after closing the door at home. The sex just…happens.

But is this what sex is actually like IRL? And is the sex that happens out of nowhere the best kind of sex? Can sex that’s planned be just as good, or does it necessarily take some of the “magic” out of it? Let’s explore.

The Spontaneity Myth 

Many people believe that spontaneous sex is better than planned sex, in part, because they think spontaneity springs from a more authentic sexual connection. With planned sex, the passion has to be created, and that takes at least a little effort. To some, the sheer idea of planned sex may feel like “work” as opposed to a fun and pleasurable pursuit.

However, many sex therapists have a different perspective. When couples complain of a desire discrepancy – one of the most common reasons people seek sex therapy in the first place – therapists often introduce the “spontaneity myth” and direct clients to plan out their sexual encounters as a means of building sexual anticipation and excitement.

So what does research say about the pros and cons of spontaneous versus planned sex? 

A recent publication from The Journal of Sex Research tackled this topic through a two-pronged investigation focused on the associations between spontaneous sex, planned sex, and sexual satisfaction. In the first study, researchers compared whether people endorsed the belief that spontaneous sex is satisfying over the belief that planned sex is satisfying.

In total, 303 people took part in this study, most of whom were White, cisgender, and heterosexual. All participants were in a long-term relationship of some kind and lived with their partner. 

People THINK Spontaneous Sex is Better

The researchers predicted that participants would endorse the spontaneous sex belief more frequently than the planned sex belief. This turned out to be the case, showing that the spontaneous sex belief is a normative or conventional attitude when it comes to sexual initiation.

While people who recalled their most recent sexual experience as being planned (as opposed to spontaneous) reported lower sexual satisfaction on average, this was not the case among those who strongly believe that planned sex can be satisfying. In other words, if you believe planned sex can be satisfying, planning sex doesn’t seem to take the fun out of it. 

Study one is somewhat limited because it required participants to reflect back on a past sexual encounter rather than gathering information about their sex lives on an ongoing basis. A second study addressed this limitation through a 21-day experience survey. Here, 121 couples reported on their daily sexual activity, whether the sex was spontaneous or planned, and their sexual satisfaction each day. Participants were also asked about their endorsement of the planned vs. spontaneous sex belief, as well as their baseline sexual satisfaction. 

But Spontaneous Sex Does NOT Equal More Sexual Satisfaction 

Interestingly, the second study found few associations between people’s sexual beliefs, the nature of their encounters, and sexual satisfaction. The only significant association dealt with differences in partner beliefs: for those who strongly endorsed the planned sex belief, their partner was more likely to report lower sexual satisfaction.

However, belief that spontaneous sex is better did not translate to higher sexual satisfaction at baseline or when spontaneous sex occurred.

There are many reasons why planned sex may better suit some couples’ needs. The research team notes that needing to juggle various responsibilities such as childcare and work schedules may allow for few (if any) opportunities for spontaneous sex, therefore making planned sex a useful tool. Additionally, some participants reported enjoying the anticipation of a sexual experience that planned sex creates. 

Sexual Communication and Sexual Satisfaction 

At the same time, the association between planned sex beliefs and a partner’s lower sexual satisfaction does illuminate other aspects of intimate relationships that might impact satisfaction—namely, communication. This finding does not necessarily mean that planned sex is incompatible with sexual satisfaction if only one partner prefers it, but it may indicate a need for more communication around sexual interests, preferences, and desires to ensure that one partner’s preference does not lead to lower satisfaction for another. 

It’s worth noting that one participant reported that spontaneous sex detracted from satisfaction for them because it did not “[let] me get aroused before penetration.” However, rather than spontaneous sex necessarily being the problem, this comment points to inadequate sexual stimulation as a potential barrier to enjoying spontaneous sex. This is a common sexual complaint, particularly among heterosexual women, give that a lack of attention to a partner’s arousal before penetration is a leading cause of the orgasm gap between heterosexual men and women

Do you have a preference for spontaneous or planned sex? What other factors are important to you for sexual satisfaction? Add to the conversation with your comments below.

You can learn more about this research and its findings here

Image Source: 123RF/Andriy Popov

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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