"Big 5" Personality Trait Predicts How Good Sex Is for Couples in New Study

Partners must be careful to "not let it slip."


This National Orgasm Day, scientists offer a glimmer of hope for anyone freaking out about the orgasm gap, which leaves men more sexually satisfied than women. In a recent study published in the Journal of Sex Research, they highlight one male personality trait that tends to lead to greater levels of sexual satisfaction in their female partners, potentially setting a foundation for a healthier, more satisfying sex life.

Many previous studies have implicated the role of an individual’s personality in “sexual function,” a broad term encompassing a person’s general sexual satisfaction. It makes sense: People with different personality types approach sex and behavior in different ways, so it follows that the level of satisfaction an individual gets from sex would differ as well. But in the new study, lead author and Ruhr-Universität Bochum clinical psychologist Julia Velten, Ph.D., wanted to examine how the personality dynamics of two people in a heterosexual relationship affect how good their sex life is.

The effects of one “Big Five” personality trait — conscientiousness — jumped out at her, she tells Inverse. The effects were particularly pronounced in men and tended to have myriad effects on how the sex lives of 964 mostly heterosexual German couples unfolded.

“I guess all personality factors are important for sexual function,” says Velten. “The most interesting or surprising finding, however, was the importance of conscientiousness.”

Conscientiousness, particularly in men, lead to higher "sexual function" in their female partners.

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When designing the questionnaires for her participants, Velten drew upon previous psychological research based on the “Big Five” personality types — extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience — showing how they affect relationships, both sexual and otherwise. Couples rated themselves on a scale of one to five in response to questions intended to measure each one of these personality traits.

She then had the couples rate the quality of their relationships and their own sexual function — essentially, how good they thought their sex lives were. Using the previously established “actor-partner independence model,” she used the data to figure out how an individual’s personality contributes to their partner’s overall feeling of sexual satisfaction.

Interestingly, the researchers used different scales to rate sexual function in men and women. They both answered questions about frequency of orgasm and desire, but the men's scale maxed out at 75 and the women's maxed out at 36

Comparing the metrics revealed that conscientiousness was a consistent predictor of high sexual satisfaction for women. That is, if the man is “thorough” or “dutiful,” it tends to pay off big time for his partner. Here’s how Big Five conscientiousness is defined in a Personality and Individual Differences paper from 2009:

Conscientiousness is the Big Five personality trait capturing individual differences in the degree of organization, persistence, and motivation in goal-directed behavior: people high in conscientiousness are described as organized, reliable, and ambitious.

The effect, however, wasn’t observed when the woman in the relationship ranked high on conscientiousness. When she was thoughtful or dutiful, there appeared to be little to no effect on the male partner’s level of perceived sexual satisfaction.

Although female conscientiousness didn’t seem to have a huge effect on male sexual satisfaction in this study, Velten notes that, on the whole, men who are more conscientious actually tend to have more sex overall. “We know that men initiate sex more often than women, and that the frequency of sexual activity is higher in couples where the man is more conscientious,” she explains.

The lesson to be learned here, at least for men, is that practice makes perfect. Conscientious men tend to have more sex, and in turn, get better at pleasing their partners. In the paper, the authors have a far better way of putting it, saying that sexually successful partners have “a tendency to ‘not let it slip.’” In other words, constant conscientiousness allowed partners to continually troubleshoot each other’s sex lives.

There is hope, then, in closing the orgasm gap after all. If these results hold, conscientious guys might be the first to start building a bridge across that ever-widening gulf.

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