Self-help books and countless articles claim that having more sex leads to more happiness. That is based on the belief that those couples who are having more sex are indeed more content. However, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University now report that simply having more sex does not make people happier. In fact, they found that increasing the frequency of sexual relations leads to a decline in wanting and enjoying sex.
Another factor at play when people evaluate whether they are happy with their sex life is peer pressure. Just like with income, people are more satisfied with their sex lives if they believe they are getting at least as much or more than their peers, or at least their pals, according to research from University of Colorado.
The Carnegie Mellon study, published this week in the Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization, is reportedly the first study to look at whether actually having more sex does make happier couples.
The researchers divided 128 healthy adults who were partners (i.e. 64 heterosexual couples) between the ages of 35 and 65 into two groups. One group was told to have twice as much sex as they typically had. The other group did not receive any specific instructions regarding changing their love lives. All the couples were asked to report online daily about their happiness levels and sex lives.
Three months later, the couples that were asked to have more sex reported they were not as happy. Delving deeper, those couples reported that their sexual desire declined, so did their enjoyment level.
The researchers believe that it is possible that the feeling that a doctor ordered them to have more sex – rather than initiating sex on their own – skewed the results. One theory is that the couples changed their attitude toward sex “from an activity voluntarily engaged in to one that was part of a research study,” noted George Loewenstein, the study’s lead investigator. He believes, despite the findings, that couples tend to not have enough sex. Loewenstein added that, if they were to redo the study, they would try to encourage the participants to initiate sex in more fun ways rather than feel they just had to have more (which may have dampened the enthusiasm).
Rather than focusing on increasing the frequency of sexual intercourse to levels typically experienced at the start of a relationship, however, study co-author Tamar Krishnamurti, a Carnegie Mellon research scientist, suggests that couples work on creating environments or making plans that spark their desire. “That makes the sex that they do have even more fun,” Krishnamurti added.
Other studies on happiness with sex lives, such as the University of Colorado one, have looked at sexual frequency and happiness. It seems to indicate that the issue with the Carnegie Mellon data is that the people were told to have more sex.
The Colorado study used data from the General Social Survey, which has taken the national pulse since 1972 and included questions about respondents’ sex lives since 1989. Tim Wadsworth, an associate professor of sociology at the Boulder campus, used a sample of data gathered from 15,386 people surveyed between 1993 and 2006. After accounting for factors like income, marital status, health, education, race, age and other characteristics, he found that respondents who claimed to have sex at least two to three times a month were 33 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness than the people who indicated that they had engaged in no sexual relations with someone else the prior year.
The study indicated that people were happier based on sexual frequency. Those who reported having sex once a week were 44 percent more likely to be happy than those who had none. Those who had sex two or three times a week were 55 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness. This seems to indicate that more sex does make people happier, provided they are not told to have more. Clearly more research is needed.
By Dyanne Weiss