Does more sex mean more happiness? Here's the science.
By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD
Do you have sex once or twice a week? Every other week? Almost every day? The question is: will having sex more often make you happier? It certainly seems as if it would — but what does the science say?
An enormous study by the University of Toronto Mississauga took on the task. Researchers did in fact find that, for heterosexual people aged 18-89 who are married or in a committed relationship, there is a clear correlation between sexual frequency and happiness.
But there’s a wrinkle to the results. For the study participants, less is actually more: the sex/happiness connection tops out at one conjugal experience — a week. The good news? That’s also the average amount of sex married/committed people are having anyway — so it kind of works out.
But it turns out that in many ways, that sex-one-time-a-week number is fairly aspirational because most Americans are having less sex than that. Research shows that most of us have sex about 2-3 times per month (though a rollicking 6% say they’re getting it more than 3 times per week. But we don’t know whether that makes them happier or unhappier).
And there are some gender differences in the results. When women have sex only once a month or less, their happiness plunges . Weirdly for men, that single monthly sexual encounter leads to a tiny bit more happiness.
If more sex equals more happiness, why only once per week?
Why wouldn’t having sex more than once a week make you even jollier? Other researchers (this time at Carnegie-Mellon University) asked participants to increase their number of sex sessions. But that increased frequency led not to more happiness, but to a decrease in both desire and enjoyment , and — wait for it — less happiness. Why? Participants said that the relationship between sex and happiness dissolved when they were told they HAD to have more sex for the study .
The study’s lead investigator, George Loewenstein, said, “If we ran the study again, and could afford to do it, we would try to encourage subjects into initiating more sex in ways that put them in a sexy frame of mind, perhaps with babysitting, hotel rooms or Egyptian sheets, rather than directing them to do so. ” I expect those little tweaks would make married folks happier, sex or not.
That study also revealed that most participants think that sex is more essential to a good relationship than money is . And that’s understandable — at least sex involves communing with another person, and money doesn’t.
Researchers weren’t able to tease out whether the once-a-week frequency of sex makes you happy or if being in a good relationship leads to having weekly sex and that’s what makes you happier. If you weren’t having any sex before your relationship, and now you’re busy once a week, then the sex itself has to mean SOMETHING to your happiness.
And it’s a different world for single heterosexual people who do not correlate more frequent sex with happiness . Is that because they’re just hooking up and not in committed relationships, or do the singles know something that the couples have forgotten? Nope, not according to some research that says people with lots of partners are not nearly as happy as the ones who have a single bedfellow.
So what is the answer? YES, more sex is likely to increase your happiness from whatever level it was when your sexual encounters were sparser. But only up to a point. Where that point lies depends more on you and your partner than it does on the statistics.
Amy Muise, Ulrich Schimmack, and Emily A. Impett. Social Psychological and Personality Science, May 2016; vol. 7, 4: pp. 295-302. http://spp.sagepub.com/content/7/4/295abstract. Accessed 6.15.16
http://www.nber.org/papers/w10499.pdf. Accessed 6.20.16.
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. Volume 116, August 2015, Pages 206–218.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167268115001316. Accessed 6.16.16.