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Is Planned Sex Just as Good as Spontaneous Encounters?

Why the research says we shouldn't believe the movies.

Key points

  • Most people believe that spontaneous sex is more satisfying than planned sex.
  • But real-life couples report that planned sex is just as good as spontaneous sex.
  • The notion that the best sex is spontaneous is a myth perpetuated by our society.

It happened right after breakfast on Saturday morning for Abbie and Brian. As they were carrying the dishes to the sink, Brian’s hand brushed against Abbie’s bare arm. She looked up at him and smiled, so he kissed her, and she threw her arms around him. Before they knew it, they were in the bedroom.

Yolanda and Zachary had it carefully planned for Saturday morning. The kids were at soccer practice for the next couple of hours. Zachary had done the dishes and laundry that morning so Yolanda could have some time for herself. They quickly groomed themselves and then met in the bedroom.

So, which couple had better sex? Do you think Abbie and Brian’s spontaneous sexual encounter was more satisfying? Or was the planned lovemaking of Yolanda and Zachary more meaningful?

Measuring Beliefs About Spontaneous and Planned Sex

As York University (Canada) psychologist Katarina Kovacevic and her colleagues point out in an article they recently published in The Journal of Sex Research, most people believe that spontaneous sex is more satisfying. In part, this is because that’s how sex is portrayed in the movies—hot, passionate, and spur-of-the-moment. Additionally, people can remember a time when their romantic relationship was new, sexual desire was high, and spontaneous sex was the norm.

Yet, as intimate relationships mature, sexual desire wanes. One reason is that familiarity is just not as exciting as novelty. But perhaps an even more important reason is that the demands of daily life can make it hard to find the time—or the energy—for sex.

That said, plenty of research shows that couples who have sex frequently are happier and more satisfied with their relationship. In what’s called the “good-enough” sex model, relationship scientists and couples’ counselors alike encourage romantic partners to have realistic attitudes about sex. According to this way of thinking, what’s important is that couples connect intimately on a frequent basis, not whether the sex they have is “mind-blowing” or “earth-shaking.”

In the current study, Kovacevic and colleagues investigated romantic couples’ beliefs about spontaneous and planned sex. They also asked whether spontaneous or planned sex was perceived as more satisfying.

As expected, most participants believed that spontaneous sex was more satisfying than planned sex. However, there were some who stated that they preferred their sexual encounters to be planned. Even if spur-of-the-moment sex is ideal, it may be more practical for some people to plan time for sex in their busy calendars.

Following the Sex Lives of Real Couples

Following up on this survey, Kovacevic and colleagues asked 121 couples to take part in a three-week diary study. Before the study began, each partner indicated their spontaneous and planned sex beliefs, and they rated their overall level of sexual satisfaction, sexual desire, and sexual distress.

Then for the next 21 days, each participant indicated whether they’d had sex that day and whether it had been spontaneous or planned. They also rated their level of sexual satisfaction, sexual desire, and sexual distress on that day.

Although people generally believe that spontaneous sex is more satisfying than planned sex, the researchers found no evidence for this. In other words, these respondents reported that their planned sexual encounters were just as satisfying as their spontaneous ones. It’s not unusual, in psychology studies, to find that people’s beliefs do not match their actual experiences. This finding also supports the contention that these beliefs are based on societal expectations about how sex is supposed to play out.

However, there was one interesting finding that needs to be unpacked. Namely, when one person stated a preference for planned sex, their partner reported lower overall sexual satisfaction at the onset of the study. It could be that these couples were resorting to planned sex as a way of bolstering a flagging sex life, just as couples’ counselors often advise, and that’s why they reported lower sexual satisfaction at the beginning of the study.

The Myth of Spontaneous Sex

Still, these results show that planned sex can be just as good as spontaneous sex, despite the hype. On this point, Kovacevic and colleagues refer to noted psychotherapist Esther Perel, who comments on the “myth of spontaneous sex.” That is to say, couples early in a relationship often believe their sex is spontaneous, but in fact, a lot of preparation goes into that supposedly spur-of-the-moment lovemaking. They groom themselves in expectation, they flirt with each other, and they make the time for sex to happen.

This also suggests a reason why spontaneous sex is perceived as more exciting than planned sex. That is, spontaneous sex is more likely to occur when the relationship is new and the partners have a strong desire to be with each other. In this case, spontaneous sex is so exciting because everything about the new relationship is thrilling.

But once couples settle down in a long-term relationship, the demands of daily life reduce the opportunities for spontaneous sex. Instead, opportunities for sex have to be found between the requirements of work, housekeeping, and childcare. Planned sex may be the only sex that busy couples can have.

The notion that sex should be spontaneous is a myth perpetuated by our society. It’s the kind of sex most often portrayed in the movies, which are, after all, telling us exciting stories of young love and hot romance, not the day-to-day lives of couples who settled down together long ago. And while spontaneous sex can certainly be exhilarating, it’s more likely to be planned sex that keeps couples together for the long haul.

Facebook image: Kaewmanee jiangsihui/Shutterstock


Kovacevic, K., Tu, E., Rosen, N. O., Raposo, S., & Muise, A. (2023). Is spontaneous sex ideal? Beliefs and perceptions of spontaneous and planned sex and sexual satisfaction in romantic relationships. The Journal of Sex Research. Advance online publication.

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