New study finds makeup sex isn't as satisfying as you might think

angry couple in bed
Kissing and making up isn't as easy as movies would have us believe, according to a new study. Photo credit: Getty.

Movies and television would have us believe that makeup sex - the passionate encounter following a fight between a couple - is always a thrilling and deeply satisfying event. 

But a study of newlyweds from researchers in the US and Aotearoa has proven that's not actually always the case. 

In one of the first studies of its kind, the University of Auckland and Florida State University researchers surveyed 107 heterosexual newlywed couples in America and followed up six months later to detect any changes over time.

Independently of their spouse, each person filled in questionnaires over the period to rate their level of satisfaction with sexual relations, overall marital satisfaction and whether there had been a conflict with their partner on that day.

According to researchers, conflict was defined in the study as something one person did that the other person didn't like. It was left up to the couple to decide what defined sex. 

Researcher Dr Jessica Maxwell discusses the results of the study with hosts Mon Barton and Sarah Templeton on Newshub podcast The Snack.

Although respondents reported multiple days when they fought and had sex, sex was equally likely to occur on conflict and non-conflict days. But results showed that couples were 1.68 times more likely to have sex if there had been no conflict the previous day - in other words when conflict was felt by one partner, sex was less likely to occur in the two days following.

Contrary to all those notions of conflict making sex all the sweeter, on the days when a spouse reported having both conflict and sex they reported the sex as less satisfying.

"Our study doesn't support the idea that 'make-up sex' is especially passionate or sexually satisfying and in fact, spouses were no more or less likely to have sex on days of conflict," says Dr Jessica Maxell from the University of Auckland's school of psychology.

"But conflict on a particular day did appear to make it less likely couples would have sex on the day following. And an interesting point is that for all of our findings, we saw little differences between how men and women responded to the survey questions."

Dr Maxwell says the study had some limitations including the definition of conflict used - one partner reporting they disliked something their partner did - as compared to instances where there might be more severe and verbal disagreement for example.

And including same-sex couples and different age groups in the research would produce a more varied picture of the role make-up sex plays in relationships, if any, she says.

"When couples are wondering whether they should engage in sex after conflict, I think they should be mindful that such sex may have short-term benefits by buffering reduced marital satisfaction on days of conflict, but might not be as satisfying as cultural myths would have us believe."