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Is frequent sex important for happiness?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Does having frequent sex make us happy? Maybe not exactly.

Does having sex more frequently than others make us happy? Maybe, but then not exactly, suggests research.

A new survey findings suggests people are happiest when they are more sexually active than their friends or neighbors, just like earning more money than the person next store might bring happiness. But just believing you have more sex than someone else seems to also have a happiness effect.

When it comes to sex it's important to 'measure up'

Tim Wadsworth, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder, conducted a study to find out if frequent sex really does make us happy.

What he discovered is people are happiest when they have sex two to three times a week, compared to those who reported they had no sex in the previous 12-months.

But it wasn’t just sexual frequency that produced a sense of well-being.

Survey respondents felt happier if they even thought they were having at least as much or more sex than others.

Compared to no sex in the previous 12 months, people who engaged in the activity two to three times a week were 55 percent happier. Sexual activity once a week boosted happiness by 44 percent.

Wadsworth said the happiness effect of sex was evident even after taking into account other factors like income, education, marital status, health, age and race.

How do we know how often other people have sex?

Wadsworth says people do talk about sex, even though it is a private matter.

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For example, magazines like Glamour, The AARP Magazine, Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan conduct surveys and frequently report the results for everyone to see.

Wadsworth, who is also a research associate at CU-Boulder's Institute of Behavioral Science points out, "…there is plenty of evidence that information concerning normative sexual behavior is learned through discussions within peer groups and friendship networks.” Television also plays a role in disseminating information about sexual frequency norms.

Information for the study was taken the General Social Survey (GSS) that has been ongoing since 1972. The GSS has been monitoring and collecting data on issues like sex in America, national spending priorities, marijuana use, crime, human values and other social complexities for insights into the structure and functioning of American society as a whole.

All of the survey recipients in each year are asked to answer the whether they are "very happy, pretty happy or not too happy."

Is there a pitfall in comparing yourself to others?

Though it seems necessary, comparing ourselves to others, whether it is with regards to intellect, wit and humor, income, physical beauty or other, can be “problematic” Wadsworth points out.

"We're usually not looking down and therefore thinking of ourselves as better off, but we're usually looking up and therefore feeling insufficient and inadequate, “he says.

Still, the only way we have to gauge satisfaction in life is to compare ourselves to others. In his own classroom, Wadsworth says he asks student to write down 3 adjectives that describe them best. He then asks students if the adjectives would have any meaning if they were alone on a desert island with no one else around to compare themselves with.

There is also no question that sex is a stress-buster, shown in past studies, which could in part explain some of why it promotes happiness.

The bottom line is we can only feel happier from having more sex by ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ if we know how frequently the Joneses have sex too. And the study shows having more sex than others, or just thinking it is so does make people happier. It would all be meaningless without comparing our ‘accomplishments’ to others Wadsworth suggests.

CU College of Arts & Sciences
April 15, 2013 news release

Updated 5/9/2015