Test Driving Sex

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I recently saw a BuzzFeed video exploring what driver’s ed would be like if we taught people how to drive like we teach them about sex.  While hilarious, the video also shows just how ridiculous it is to compare driving a car to sexuality. Yet, there may be something to such a comparison.  Can we learn something about sex by comparing it to cars?

A recent study by Dean Busby and colleagues at Brigham Young University found two different models for how people think about when to have sex in relationships.  So which model works best, and why?  Let’s find out.

Compatibility: Test-Drive Model

“You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it first, so why would you get married without testing the sex?”  This model depends on the belief that it is important to know if the sex is good or not before committing yourself to a relationship. In the study, couples who used the compatibility model were less stable and satisfied in their relationship, while those couples who waited until after marriage to have sex had the best relationship outcomes.  By understanding some of the assumptions being made in this model, perhaps we can understand why compatibility may not be the right answer.   

The Assumptions

  • Foundation

    In the compatibility model, sex is the foundation of relationships.  The success of the relationship depends on whether or not the sex is enjoyable, so having sex as early as possible is the best test of whether or not the relationship will last.

When buying a car, it is wise to test the car first before buying because we can get a feel for the car and figure out if it meets our preferences.  If we enjoy the test drive, we can rely on the car to act the same every time we drive.  

On the other hand, anyone who has had sex with the same person more than once knows that not every sexual experience is the same.  Sometimes the sex is really great, and other times there is something lacking. If sex is the foundation of our relationship, then this change will give us whiplash trying to figure out if the relationship is really good or not.  This can leave us unstable and constantly feeling a need to reevaluate the relationship.

  • Control

    Those who build a relationship around compatibility are also making the assumption that two people are either sexually compatible or they are not.  We have no choice in the matter.  Even if we think someone looks attractive or has certain characteristics we think we would like, a relationship with them may or may not be the right thing if the sex isn’t good.  

When buying a car, we should find the car that meets our preferences the best.  Unless we make our own car, this means we have to find a make and model that someone else has chosen for us.  Because of this, we do not make an effort to make the car work differently if the test drive does not go well.  We just go look for a different model.

When looking for sexual satisfaction, however, effort becomes a little more important. The efforts we make to show respect and appreciation for another person have just as much to do with how satisfied we are with sex as the preferences or personality of our partners. If we believe that our satisfaction depends solely on things out of our control, then we won’t make important efforts to maintain satisfaction, and will eventually be left feeling unsatisfied with the relationship.

Restraint: Research Model

In the comparison of test-driving a car to test-driving sex in a relationship, there is an important step missing: the research ahead of time.  Few people will just go to a dealership and start test driving every available model.  Instead, most of us do some preliminary research to find a car that meets our criteria, such as safety ratings, gas mileage, color, engine type, etc.  Only after we have done enough research, will we test drive the car to make sure it lives up to its promise.  The test drive is not about finding the right model, but finalizing the decision we have already made.

Those who use the restraint model of sex understand the importance of the research step, and these couples are usually happier and more secure in their relationships.  So what is different about this model that allows for more positive outcomes?

The Differences

  • Foundation

    The foundation of relationships for those who use restraint is companionship and partnership.  They establish positive patterns of communication, dedication, and relationship expectations before allowing sex to become the driving force of their relationship.  If we were to buy a car after one test-drive without any other research behind our choice, then how would we respond to an unexpected repair or recall?  We would likely immediately question our choice and may consider selling the car rather than making the needed repair.  However, if we did our research and know the full potential of the car we have, then we are more willing to make the repair and keep going.  When we build our relationships on a foundation of the trust, teamwork, and desire of companionship, little bumps in the road will be unlikely to knock us off course.  

  • Control

    The restraint model of sex in relationships gives control of the relationship outcomes to the couple, not the sex.  Adding sex to a relationship only after commitment disbands the illusion that sexual satisfaction is out of our control.  After buying a car, we often discover something about the car that we don’t like.  If we did our research and realize that other cars won’t be any better, we will be more likely to overlook the one negative part and focus on all the things we like about our car. The restraint model of sex similarly makes it easier to overlook some of the things we cannot control in our relationships, and instead focus on those things we like.  While we may not be able to change what we don’t like, we remember that we already made the choice we did because we believe in the potential for good in the relationship.  We choose to allow the good to outweigh the bad and make effort to make the good last.

Whether or not comparing sex to driving is ridiculous, we need to at least carry the analogy out to the fullest.  While it is true most of us would not buy a car without test-driving it first, it is also equally unlikely that most of us would just go test-drive a random car without doing some research first.  If we are more sure about our choices in our relationships, then we will be happier and more secure, trusting the relationship to last even when we hit a bump in the road.

If you would like to do some research about your current relationship, try taking the RELATE Assessment here.



Written by: Dallin


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