Sex is pretty important stuff. After all, none of us would be here without it, right? And just about everyone agrees that a little dancing between the sheets is an important ingredient in a happy romantic relationship. Given that, a lot of us would assume that sex more often would make you happier and improve your romantic relationships.
Sounds perfectly logical, but the answer to the question, "Does more sex make you happier--or have any other benefits?" is a resounding "It depends."
On the "Yes" side, various studies have found a connection between sex and a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, reduced heart attack risk, improved sleep, lower stress levels, better memory and analytic skills, an increase in brain-cell building, and reduced anxiety and depression.
One study even found that sex could reduce prostate cancer risk. It's not so much the act of knocking boots, though, but the ejaculations that count--and you can do that all by yourself. Either way, you'll have to do it a lot. Men who ejaculated 21 times per month had a 20 percent lower risk of developing prostate cancer than those who did so "only" 4-7 times per month, according to the study's lead author, Harvard epidemiologist, Jennifer Rider.
The circumstances of your coital bliss are also important. For example, people with many partners are less happy than those who have fewer (in fact, several studies have concluded that the number of partners needed to maximize happiness is... wait for it... one). People who cheat on their spouse and men who frequent prostitutes are also less happy than those who are able to keep their pants on when they're away from their main squeeze.
Doing the Numbers
Okay, if sex is good for you, then how much is enough? Tim Wadsworth, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, has a pretty good idea. Compared to those who didn't have intercourse at all in the previous year, Wadsworth found that people do so 2-3 times per month are 33 percent more likely to report high levels of happiness. Those who do the deed once a week are 44 percent more likely to report high levels of happiness, and those who have sex two or three times per week are 55 percent more likely.
But be careful: the nookie-to-happiness ratio isn't just a numbers game. Perception and competition also play a role. "There's an overall increase in sense of well-being that comes with engaging in sex more frequently, but there's also this relative aspect to it," Wadsworth said. "Having more sex makes us happy, but thinking that we are having more sex than other people makes us even happier." For example, if a couple is having intercourse two or three times a month but they think that their neighbors are partaking once a week, the first couple's "probability of reporting a higher level of happiness falls by about 14 percent," Wadsworth found.
Which (not Who) Comes First?
Okay, so there's a connection between those joint sessions of congress and happiness. But George Leowenstein, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University, wasn't clear on which one of the two caused the other. Does carnal knowledge make people happier or do happier people have more afternoon (or morning or nighttime) delights? Or is there another variable, such as health or income, that affects both? Leowenstein and his colleagues decided to find out.
They started with 64 volunteer couples (all were legally married, heterosexual, and aged 35-65) and randomly divided them into two groups. One was asked to double their conjugal frequency, the other didn't get any instructions. The study lasted for three months and both members of the couples got surveys before, during, and after. The questionnaires asked participants about their about happiness levels, how often they had sex, and how much they enjoyed it.
The couples in the increase-it group did, indeed, boost their sexual encounters. But the results weren't what Leowenstein and his team were expecting. "Contrary to what one would expect if the causal story running from sexual frequency to happiness were true," they wrote in their paper, "we observed a weak negative impact of inducing people to have more sex on mood." In other words, increasing the number of times you have sex may actually decrease your happiness, desire, and enjoyment.
The researchers were quick to point out that the problem wasn't the increased sex, itself. Instead, it was the fact that the sexual act was a homework assignment instead of something the couples jumped into on their own.
So there you go: more sex doesn't necessarily make us happier. So stop worrying about quantity, forget about how much action the guys down the street are getting, and start focusing on quality--and spontaneity.