Have you seen any of the books, articles or “experiments” out there encouraging couples to have sex every night for a month, or for “99 days,” or even every day for a year? Does this idea sound appealing to you?
The idea is that connecting physically like this, even if you “have to do it,” will bring the two of you closer together and make your marriage happier. And of course, you can find people say it worked for them!
But are couples who have lots more sex actually happier? While we might think that engaging in more of a (typically) enjoyable activity like sex would make us feel good…guess what? It may not be quite that simple.
In several recent large studies, researchers looked at how frequency of sex affected the well-being of thousands of people. They found that having more sex was linked to higher well being…but only up to a certain point! More frequent sex was linked to feeling happier and more satisfied with relationships until couples reached a sexual frequency of once a week. After that point, additional sex seemed to make no difference.
As it happens, “once a week” is also the average sexual frequency for people in established relationships! Maybe this is a case where it’s good to be average?
(By the way, sexual frequency was not found to affect happiness for single people. This is probably because sex is more complicated for people who are unattached.)
So what about those books and experiments? Would you believe that researchers actually did try out this theory in a serious scientific experiment? It’s true. Couples who were having sex about—you guessed it!—once a week were asked to try to have sex twice as often (for science!) But their well-being didn’t increase. Why? Though we don’t know for sure, we could guess that turning sex into an obligation can backfire.
Of course, none of this is to say that sex doesn’t matter. After all, let’s not forget that the people in these studies who were having sex less than once a week were less happy and satisfied (and those numbers kept going down as the sex got less frequent). It’s definitely the case that a healthy, positive sexual relationship with your partner is important to a loving relationship.
But as this research reminds us, sex is not a magic cure-all…and it may not be the case that if some is good, more and more is going to be better and better. After all, there are so many pieces to the puzzle that make up a strong marriage or partnership. Sex is wonderful and fun, but remember to cherish your partner and your relationship in many different ways.
By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Muise, A., Schimmack, U., & Impett, E. A. (2015). Sexual frequency predicts greater well-being, but more is not always better. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7, 1-8.
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