More isn’t always better when it comes to sex, says study
Having sex more than once a week isn’t going to make you any happier in your relationship, new research suggests.
But having sex any less than that might make you more dissatisfied.
The findings are from a University of Toronto study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. It analyzed the sex lives of more than 30,000 Americans, aged 18-89, who were surveyed in three separate projects over four decades.
Before you rush to share the results with your partner, though, sex and relationship expert Dr. Jess O’Reilly cautions about getting too caught up in the numbers.
The most common questions she gets from people in long-term relationships are: ‘How often does the average couple have sex? How often should we be having it? And how often do you have sex?’
“The obsession with quantity over quality is one that permeates almost every area of our lives, including sex, and it’s an unfortunate and potentially damaging hierarchy.”
“Sex, like all good things, is about quality — not quantity. When we get hung up counting the days (or weeks) between encounters, sex becomes a chore as opposed to a pleasure.”
And since people’s sexual appetites differ, it’s no surprise that not everyone has the same reaction to the study’s “magic” number.
“One person told me they found the results ‘reassuring and liberating,’ whereas others have responded with ‘once a week?!’ suggesting that they would prefer to have sex more often,” admitted the study’s lead researcher, Amy Muise.
She still wants to explore why once a week, which happens to be the average frequency among “established couples,” seems to be the sweet spot for happiness.
“There is likely an association going both ways: sex contributes to feelings of happiness, and people who are happier report more sex. The new finding in this work is that there is a point where engaging in more frequent sex is no longer associated with more happiness.”
Another key thing to keep in mind is that these results were correlational, which means researchers didn’t try to increase couples’ sexual frequency. Instead, they studied “naturally occurring sexual frequency” and how it was associated with self-reported well-being.
The next step would be to increase the sexual frequency of couples who are intimate less than once a week, and see if that brings them greater happiness.
For now, though, Muise’s take-home message from this research is that “it’s important to maintain a sexual connection with a romantic partner. But for the average person that doesn’t necessarily mean engaging in sex as frequently as possible.
“Sex does not have limitless benefits for well-being such that more is always better. Instead, it seems that only too little is bad.”
O’Neill adds that forcing yourself to have sex in order to meet a quota likely won’t do anything to heighten intimacy or pleasure.
“If you’re not in the mood for sex, you may still want to consider letting your partner help put you in the mood,” she said, though.
“If you wait until you’re in the mood to have sex, you may never get to it, as exhaustion, stress and lifestyle distractions can interfere.”
For those who want to put the spark back in their sex life, here’s some more advice from Dr. Jess O’Reilly.
6 tips to invigorate your sex life:
- Fantasize on your own. Solo sex comes with far less pressure, so take time once a week to take care of yourself.
- Flirt and have fun with your partner without the pressure to have sex. Every make-out session need not lead to orgasm.
- Have sex-free dates. Every date night doesn’t need to end with sex. You might enjoy your time together even more knowing that there is pressure to “perform” at the end of the night.
- Engage in other activities that release feel-good hormones similar to sex like exercise, dancing and yoga.
- Say no to one request this week. Most of us are over-scheduled and over-tired. This interferes with our sleep habits, diet, energy levels and libido, so do what you can to reduce your work and responsibility-load and you may find that sex comes more naturally.
- Don’t take quizzes or worry about averages that compare your baseline to others. When it comes to your relationship and sex life, you’re the expert, so don’t waste any energy worrying about what others have to say.
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