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November 24, 2015

Sex And Happiness

There is no doubt that sex can make you happy, but it may be surprising how much — or how little — it takes.

Does more sex mean more happiness? Not necessarily, according to a new study. Couples were happiest when they had sex about once a week; but those who had sex more often were no happier.

The idea that you can have too much of a good thing is well known to anyone who's worked in an ice cream store. But too much sex?

Despite the impression that young people are the most sexually active and older people are far more sedate, neither age nor gender nor length of relationship had any effect on the study's basic finding that people who had sex weekly were the happiest.

Some studies and plenty of self-help books have claimed that more sex equals more happiness. But the current study, which looked at four decades worth of surveys of over 40,000 Americans, found that this is only true up to a point. For couples, that point seems to be once a week.

That's not the only stereotype the study found to be untrue. Despite the impression that young people are the most sexually active and older people are far more sedate, neither age nor gender nor length of relationship had any effect on the study's basic finding that people who had sex weekly were the happiest.

The researchers actually evaluated data from three separate studies. The first study tracked over 25,000 people who took the General Social Survey from 1989 to 2012. This survey, conducted every two years by the University of Chicago, includes a nationally representative sample and covers a wide range of social issues.

The study findings don't necessarily mean that couples should engage in more or less sex to reach the weekly average (who wants to be just average?), but partners should discuss whether their sexual needs are being met.

It found no association at all between well-being and how often single people had sex. Couples, defined here as people in relationships, on the other hand, reported increased well-being with increased sex, but only up to once a week. It also found, as had other previous studies, that couples tend to have sex about once a week on average.

The other two studies focussed solely on couples. One was an online survey of 335 people who were in long-term relationships. It found results similar to the first study, but it also looked at income and found that sex may be more important to happiness than money is. The difference in happiness between people who had sex less than once a month and those who had sex weekly was larger than the difference in happiness between those with an income in the $15,000-$25,000 range and those with an income in the $50,000-$75,000 range.

The third and final study looked at married couples. More than 2,400 married couples in the United States were surveyed at three time points over 14 years. The link between sexual frequency and overall life satisfaction wasn't very strong here, but once again, couples reported more satisfaction with their relationships as their sexual frequency rose, up to once per week, but no more satisfaction when sex was more frequent than weekly.

So once a week seems to be optimum for most. Lead researcher Amy Muise, a social psychologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto, says that the study findings don't necessarily mean that couples should engage in more or less sex to reach the weekly average (who wants to be just average?), but partners should discuss whether their sexual needs are being met: “It's important to maintain an intimate connection with your partner without putting too much pressure on engaging in sex as frequently as possible.”

Oh well, there's always ice cream.

The study appears in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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