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How The Big 5 Personality Types Affect Sex & Relationships

Posted By Astroglide (Dr Jess)  
28/06/2024

Personalities come in all shapes and sizes, and while we cannot possibly reduce personalities into perfectly distinct categories, the Big Five model is commonly used to understand and study fundamental dimensions of personality. Over time, researchers have used data and statistical analyses from large samples to cluster related characteristics, which led to a framework (also referred to as the Five-factor Model) examining personality along five core pillars:

  1. Openness to Experience
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extraversion
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Neuroticism

Openness to Experience refers to a willingness to try new things and is related to being vulnerable, thinking outside of the box, imagination, insight, curiosity, creativity, intellect, perception, growth, and learning.

Conscientiousness refers to being thoughtful and behaving in a socially acceptable manner. This may involve controlling impulses and operating within established expectations via planning, organization, and delaying gratification. Conscientiousness is associated with being reliable, resourceful, hard-working, consistent, thorough, predictable, disciplined, organized, and successful within established systems.

Extraversion (or extroversion) refers to the extent to which you seek out social interaction. It is associated with emotional expression, talkativeness, excitement, sociability, energy, and a willingness to engage in a range of conversations.

Agreeableness is associated with compassion, trust, cooperation, empathy, consideration, sensitivity, altruism, humility, patience, kindness and loyalty. In short, it refers to how well you get along with others.

Neuroticism generally addresses emotional instability or a lack of comfort and is associated with stress, anxiety, mood swings, pessimism, fear, jealousy, insecurity, and self-criticism.

As you explore these dimensions, it’s important to recognize that they are personality types — not traits — which means there is always overlap and sub-dimensions allowing for variation, change, and nuance along a continuum. This means we can be inclined toward being agreeable but also find ourselves less agreeable in certain circumstances or at various times in our lives. Similarly, we can be low in neuroticism overall but also experience or exhibit neurotic traits at times. Of course, there is no universal test of how we can be expected to behave or show up in relationships, but research does suggest a link between the various personality types and specific behaviours and outcomes in our relationships. Check out what the research says in our summary below.

Research suggests that those who participate in BDSM score high on openness

Openness to Experience

Those who are high in openness may be more likely to seek novelty and explore a broader range of sexual experiences. Relational and sexual outcomes for those high in openness might include:

Kinky sex. Research suggests that those who participate in BDSM score high on openness (as well as conscientiousness and extraversion).[1] If you consider yourself open to new experiences and want to explore the work of kink, check out this beginner’s guide. Openness to a range of relationship options (e.g., consensual non-monogamy); one study found that those high in openness were more likely to have positive attitudes and a desire to engage in CNM.[2]

Sexual variety and experimentation. For example, one study found a correlation between openness and a range of sexual practices, positive attitudes toward masturbation, and pornography consumption among women.[3] Curious about how ethical porn can enhance your love life (solo or partnered), click here!

Richer sexual experiences due to variation and a willingness to experiment. One study found that high levels of openness are associated with greater sexual satisfaction[4].

research suggests a link between the various personality types and specific behaviors

Conscientiousness

Being conscientious may mean that you’re inclined to follow the rules, but that doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed to be repetitive or predictable. Some of the relational benefits of being conscientious include:

Loyalty. High conscientiousness scores are positively correlated with lower relationship infidelity.[5]

Investment. Being organized, committed, reliable, and methodical can result in richer relationships across the board via the investment of time and energy into relationships — both in terms of stability and quality (which includes pleasure and satisfaction).

Sexual frequency. Conscientiousness is associated with being organized and being a good planner; planning for sex can increase both frequency and satisfaction. You don’t have to mark it in your calendars, but carving out time for connection increases the likelihood of sex and intimacy.

Better friendships. It makes sense that research suggests a link between quality connections and conscientiousness (along with extraversion and agreeableness).[6]

Neuroticism generally addresses emotional instability

Extraversion

It’s no surprise that extraversion is positively correlated with initiating relationships, engaging in social connections, and expressing care and affection for loved ones. When it comes to sex, extraversion is also associated with:

Multiple partners. Highly sociable people may be more motivated to seek social and sexual connections and have been found to exhibit higher levels of excitation and lower levels of inhibition.[7] Extraversion is also associated with lower relationship commitment and higher levels of sexual infidelity.[8]

Higher desire. As extraversion tends to be associated with lower levels of anxiety[9] and fewer inhibitions, it follows that it’s also positively correlated with higher levels of sexual desire.[10]

Happy relationships. Multiple studies[11] connect high levels of extraversion with happy marriages and meaningful friendships.

Agreeableness

Being agreeable (to a degree) lays the groundwork for harmonious relationships, but it goes beyond simply conceding to others’ desires. If you’re high in agreeableness, you’re likely to be cooperative, empathetic, supportive, and open to compromise; you may also find that you’re willing to consider (and at times) prioritize the needs of others. Positive outcomes might include:

Fewer conflicts or more constructive conflicts. A willingness to see perspectives beyond your own can lead to more fruitful outcomes when you disagree.

Happier relationships. Multiple studies show a positive correlation between agreeableness and relationship satisfaction, which makes sense, given that this personality type is associated with honesty, compassion, collaboration, and empathy.[12]

On the flip side, agreeableness is also associated with a reluctance to express needs and sexual desires. This may be associated with a fear of judgment, conflict avoidance, or sensitivity. This may be an opportunity for those who score high on agreeableness to tap into their openness in order to push their boundaries and embrace a bit of discomfort in the name of growth and pleasure.

extroversion refers to the extent to which you seek out social interaction

Neuroticism

Across multiple analyses, neuroticism is associated with negative sexual and relational outcomes, including dissatisfaction, infidelity, jealousy, performance anxiety, negative body image, and conflict. However, when we consider traits associated with neuroticism, it can be helpful to view neurotic behaviours and even tendencies as fluid. And there are potential positives associated with some of the traits that fall under the umbrella of neuroticism: Some degree of worry is normative and functional. When we worry, it can inspire us to take action. For example, worry may lead to talking to a partner about concerns, fears, and insecurities, which can lead to a meaningful connection underscored by authenticity and vulnerability. And rumination can also lead to creative solutions.

One very important note that underscores how sociocultural norms and layers of identity intersect with and challenge personality theories, including the Big Five: most research focuses on (or assumes) heterosexuality, but correlations between sexual behaviour and the Big Five can be different for LGBTQ folks. For example, one study found that in contrast to heterosexuals (who reported more partners when high in neuroticism), gay and bisexual individuals reported more sexual partners when they’re more emotionally stable.[13] Along with emotional stability, a rich body of research suggests that kindness is one key to lasting, happy relationships. A comprehensive study of 2500 couples over 20 years found that conscientiousness and emotional stability (low levels of neuroticism) are far stronger predictors of relationship satisfaction than like-mindedness or having similar personalities.

***

As always, theories (and studies) cannot paint a complete picture when it comes to human behaviour and interaction, so don’t fret if your “type” doesn’t perfectly align with your relational and sexual expectations. The good news is that personality traits can change over time according to environment, opportunities, and how we see the world. And the exciting part is that most change is positive — we tend to become more conscientious, altruistic, agreeable, and emotionally stable with time[14][15][16] — so regardless of your personality type (or your partner’s), the future can be bright for pleasurable connections of all kinds.

[1] Wismeijer, Andreas & Assen, Marcel. (2013). Psychological Characteristics of BDSM Practitioners. The journal of sexual medicine. 10. 10.1111/jsm.12192.

[2] Moors, A. C., Selterman, D. F., & Conley, T. D. (2017). Personality correlates of desire to engage in consensual non-monogamy among lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. Journal of Bisexuality, 17(4), 418–434. https://doi.org/10.1080/15299716.2017.1367982

[3] Rausch, D., Dekker, A., & Rettenberger, M. (2017). The construct of sexual openness for females in steady intimate relationships. PloS one, 12(6), e0172274. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0172274

[4] Donnellan, M. B., Conger, R. D., & Bryant, C. M. (2004). The Big Five and enduring marriages. Journal of Research in Personality, 38(5), 481–504. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2004.01.001

[5] Tan, L.J., Hwong, K.I., & Lee, M.C. (2016). A REVIEW OF PERSONALITY FACTORS ON INFIDELITY.

[6] Wilson, Robert & Harris, Kelci & Vazire, Simine. (2015). Personality and Friendship Satisfaction in Daily Life: Do Everyday Social Interactions Account for Individual Differences in Friendship Satisfaction?. European Journal of Personality. 29. 10.1002/per.1996.

[7] Rogowska, A., Tofel, M., Zmaczyńska-Witek, B., & Kardasz, Z. (2022). The relationship of number of sexual partners with personality traits, age, gender and sexual identification. Psychology & Sexuality, 13(2), 147–164. https://doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2020.1752786

[8] van Zyl, C. J. J. (2021). The five factor model and infidelity: Beyond the broad domains. Personality and Individual Differences, 172, 110553-. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2020.110553

[9] Fan, J. (2020) Relationships between Five-Factor Personality Model and Anxiety: The Effect of Conscientiousness on Anxiety. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 8, 462-469. doi: 10.4236/jss.2020.88039.

[10] Jirjahn, U., Ottenbacher, M. Big Five personality traits and sex. J Popul Econ 36, 549–580 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00148-022-00893-2

[11] Orayzi, H.R., Abedi, A., & Amini, M. (2016). A meta-analysis of extroversion and marital satisfaction.

[12] Donnellan, M. B., Conger, R. D., & Bryant, C. M. (2004). The Big Five and enduring marriages. Journal of Research in Personality, 38(5), 481–504. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2004.01.001

[13] Rogowska, A., Tofel, M., Zmaczyńska-Witek, B., & Kardasz, Z. (2022). The relationship of number of sexual partners with personality traits, age, gender and sexual identification. Psychology & Sexuality, 13(2), 147–164. https://doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2020.1752786

[14] Damian, R. I., Spengler, M., Sutu, A., & Roberts, B. W. (2019). Sixteen going on sixty-six: A longitudinal study of personality stability and change across 50 years. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 117(3), 674–695. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000210

[15] Rantanen, Johanna & Metsäpelto, Riitta-Leena & Feldt, Taru & Pulkkinen, Lea & Kokko, Katja. (2008). Long-Term Stability in the Big Five Personality Traits in Adulthood. Scandinavian journal of psychology. 48. 511-8. 10.1111/j.1467-9450.2007.00609.x.

[16] Pornpattananangkul, N., Chowdhury, A., Feng, L., & Yu, R. (2019). Social Discounting in the Elderly: Senior Citizens are Good Samaritans to Strangers. The journals of gerontology. Series B, Psychological sciences and social sciences, 74(1), 52–58. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbx040