When most of us think of our ideal happy life, “having more sex” is likely featured on many lists. It’s only logical: Sex is one of — if not the — most viscerally pleasurable activities we have. Plus there’s the added benefit of maybe feeling accompanied/loved/wanted. Many studies in the last few years have found a significant co-relation between sex and happiness. So it makes sense to think that adding a lot more frequency to our sex lives would translate into a more satisfied and happy life.
That’s also what a group of scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, led by professor of economics and psychology George Loewenstein, thought when they conducted a research that looked to prove frequency enhanced happiness. The results, though, were not quite what they expected. In fact, they found under certain circumstances, they can actually make people less happy.
The participants were 64 married couples, all healthy individuals between the ages of 35-65. They were randomly assigned in two groups: The first half received no instructions on sexual frequency, while the second half were asked to double their weekly sexual intercourse routine.
Each person completed three different surveys. Before they started the study, they answered questions to establish baselines. Then, during the experimental period, the participants answered questions online to measure health behaviors, happiness levels and the occurrence, type and enjoyableness of sex. Finally, the exit survey analyzed whether baseline levels changed over the three-month period.
“The findings were a surprise and a disappointment,” Loewenstein told Live Science. “We were expecting that the people who had more sex would enjoy it a lot and would be happier, and it would be good for the relationship. Instead, what we found was that the group who had more sex enjoyed it less, they wanted it less and they reported lower levels of happiness.”
“Perhaps being in the experimental treatment changed couple members’ construal of sex, from a voluntary activity engaged in for pleasure to a duty, engaged in at the behest of the experimenter,” said their report, which also noted that studies of sexual satisfaction in couples undergoing infertility treatment have shown similar results. Essentially, when people feel like they have to do something, it’s bound to be less desirable for them.
“Although it seems plausible that sex could have beneficial effects on happiness, it is equally plausible that happiness affects sex, or that some third variable, such as health, affects both,” the team also wrote in their paper.
The truth is that the relationship between sex and happiness is more of a reverse causality situation: If you’re happy in the first place, that might lead to having more sex, not the other way around!