There’s no shortage of relationship coaches out there. It’s one thing to find Mr. Right or Ms. Right but staying together can also be a challenge. Some suggest that couples date more, sleep more, spend more and even have sex more.
Sex is fantastic, correct? So fantastic that many people assume that they want to have it as often as possible: twice-daily sex or perhaps sex every day for a year.
But often what we think we want and what we actually want can be very different things.
A recent study may surprise you. In reality, when it comes to sex, more isn’t always better. Participating married couples who doubled the amount of sex they were having, reported feeling unhappier.
“They were less happy with the sex and they were less happy overall. They wanted [sex] less and liked it less. That seemed to explain most of the change in their overall mood,” reports George Loewenstein, Herbert A. Simon Professor of Economics and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, who is also one of the authors of the study.
These findings are contrary to what’s previously been known about sexual activity. Earlier research indicated that people who have more sex report being happier. But that posed a question: Did having more sex make people feel happier, or did happier people have more sex?
Loewenstein hoped the study would offer greater understanding between the relationship of joy and sex so he studied 64 heterosexual married couples between the ages of 35-65, with a specific focus on those couples who had sex at least once a month and no more than three times a week. Over a three-month period, half of the couples did not change their sex habits, while the other half doubled the amount of sex they had.
At the beginning, as well as the end of the study, each person independently answered questions about personality traits, mood, demographics, libido, relationship quality, and interest in sex. Additionally, every morning of the study, participants completed a 10-minute survey about their mood, personality, and frequency of sex.
Couples in the group having more frequent sex reported feeling less happy in general, less happy with their sex lives in particular, and less interested in sex. Also, the couples felt out of synch with one another.
“Being in the have-more-sex condition seemed to disrupt the natural harmony of the couples,” says Loewenstein who was shocked by these results.
Senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, Erick Janssen believes it makes sense that an increase in sexual frequency might not necessarily bring happiness.
“We are all different. So more sex may be good for some, and not for others—especially if one or both … might prefer to have less frequent sex,” he explained via email.
Loewenstein thinks the experimental conditions of the study contribute to the reason why the couples engaging in sexual activity more often didn’t feel happier. Couples could already be having the perfect amount of sex for them, and increasing that amount, which might sound like a positive step, could actually be detrimental.
“They decide to have exactly as much sex as is good for them. If they have more, it is worse,” Loewenstein says. Despite the findings, Loewenstein still believes that people should be having more sex.
“I remain convinced that couples don’t have enough sex and more sex is good for couples and individuals. Unfortunately, this study did not give me the fodder to make that claim.”