Countless research and self-help books claim that having more s*x will lead to increased happiness, based on the common finding that those having more s*x are also happier. However, there are many reasons why one might observe this positive relationship between s*x and happiness. Being happy in the first place, for example, might lead someone to have more s*x (what researchers call ‘reverse causality’), or being healthy might result in being both happier and having more s*x.
In the first study to examine the causal connection between s*xual frequency and happiness, Carnegie Mellon University researchers experimentally assigned some couples to have more s*x than others, and observed both group’s happiness over a three month period. In a paper published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, they report that simply having more s*x did not make couples happier, in part because the increased frequency led to a decline in wanting for and enjoyment of s*x.
One hundred and twenty eight healthy individuals between the ages of 35-65 who were in married male-female couples participated in the research. The researchers randomly assigned the couples to one of two groups. The first group received no instructions on s*xual frequency. The second group was asked to double their weekly s*xual intercourse frequency.
Each member of the participating couples completed three different types of surveys. At the beginning of the study, they answered questions to establish baselines. Daily during the experimental period, the participants answered questions online to measure health behaviors, happiness levels and the occurrence, type and enjoyableness of s*x. The exit survey analyzed whether baseline levels changed over the three-month period.
The couples instructed to increase s*xual frequency did have more s*x. However, it did not lead to increased, but instead to a small decrease, in happiness. Looking further, the researchers found that couples instructed to have more s*x reported lower s*xual desire and a decrease in s*xual enjoyment. It wasn’t that actually having more s*x led to decreased wanting and liking for s*x. Instead, it seemed to be just the fact that they were asked to do it, rather than initiating on their own.
“Perhaps couples changed the story they told themselves about why they were having s*x, from an activity voluntarily engaged in to one that was part of a research study. If we ran the study again, and could afford to do it, we would try to encourage subjects into initiating more s*x in ways that put them in a sexy frame of mind, perhaps with baby-sitting, hotel rooms or Egyptian sheets, rather than directing them to do so,” said George Loewenstein, the study’s lead investigator and the Herbert A. Simon University Professor of Economics and Psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Despite the study’s results, Loewenstein continues to believe that most couples have too little s*x for their own good, and thinks that increasing s*xual frequency in the right ways can be beneficial.
One of the study’s designers, Tamar Krishnamurti, suggested that the study’s findings may actually help couples to improve their s*x lives and their happiness.
“The desire to have s*x decreases much more quickly than the enjoyment of s*x once it’s been initiated. Instead of focusing on increasing s*xual frequency to the levels they experienced at the beginning of a relationship, couples may want to work on creating an environment that sparks their desire and makes the s*x that they do have even more fun,” said Krishnamurti, a research