More sex doesn't lead to increased happiness, researchers find

Credit: Charles Rondeau/public domain

Countless research and self-help books claim that having more sex will lead to increased happiness, based on the common finding that those having more sex are also happier. However, there are many reasons why one might observe this positive relationship between sex and happiness. Being happy in the first place, for example, might lead someone to have more sex (what researchers call 'reverse causality'), or being healthy might result in being both happier and having more sex.

In the first study to examine the causal connection between sexual frequency and , Carnegie Mellon University researchers experimentally assigned some couples to have more 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 sex did not make couples happier, in part because the increased frequency led to a decline in wanting for and enjoyment of sex.

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 sexual frequency. The second group was asked to double their weekly sexual 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, and the occurrence, type and enjoyableness of sex. The exit survey analyzed whether baseline levels changed over the three-month period.

The couples instructed to increase sexual frequency did have more sex. 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 sex reported lower sexual desire and a decrease in sexual enjoyment. It wasn't that actually having more sex led to decreased wanting and liking for sex. 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 sex, 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 sex 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 sex for their own good, and thinks that increasing sexual 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 sex lives and their happiness.

"The desire to have sex decreases much more quickly than the enjoyment of sex once it's been initiated. Instead of focusing on increasing sexual frequency to the levels they experienced at the beginning of a relationship, may want to work on creating an environment that sparks their desire and makes the sex that they do have even more fun," said Krishnamurti, a research scientist in CMU's Department of Engineering and Public Policy.

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More information: Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, … pen-access-articles/
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May 08, 2015
Egyptian sheets ??? maybe i am a little slow -- could someone tell me what egyptian sheets are I googled it and it was regular bed linen. Am i missing something??

May 08, 2015
Spock: "Stonn, she is yours. After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true. "

May 08, 2015
Egyptian sheets ??? maybe i am a little slow -- could someone tell me what egyptian sheets are I googled it and it was regular bed linen. Am i missing something??

Just a reputation for high quality cotton and often a high thread count.

May 08, 2015
Wait 1 week before having sex, keep teasing your partner, and admire the increased intensity during the act. Every couples should play with the different parameters and find what's best (or just keep changing these).

May 08, 2015
Strange, I've been with and I've been without and I always like with much better.

May 08, 2015
Sex has one real purpose - to make babies. Success in this respect leads to a range of physiological changes in both partners which each becomes aware of. If a couple is having sex without this result then their bodies will begin to tell them that something is wrong and that they should begin to look elsewhere for more suitable partners.

This is what makes them 'unhappy'.

As tropical animals we can reproduce year round. The farther north a species resides the more seasonal its reproduction becomes, as it wastes resources to give birth at the wrong time of year.

Humans are a tropical invasive species in a temperate environment. Our bodies have not had time to adapt although inclinations toward june weddings hint that this process has begun. Neanderthal probably had a mating season and so could not keep up with the invading cro mags.

Perhaps we could elicit the mating season genetically? This would solve a number of problems including overpopulation.

Its only natural.

May 08, 2015
Sex has one real purpose - to make babies

Babies are a consequence of having sex, but they aren't the purpose. Our sexual urges are quite divorced (in most people) from our parental urges. If they weren't, we'd have rampant incest.

Let's put it another way...

If the thought of babies is what enables you to perform sexually, you're doing it wrong, and in fact should probably not be around children.

May 08, 2015
Ghost of Otto needs to get out more.......turn off your computer and go meet a real girl.....

May 08, 2015
less sex leads to less happiness.

May 08, 2015
Some of the most miserable people I know seem to be having a lot more sex than most. Like other potentially addictive activities, frequency of the activity has very little to do with happiness.

May 08, 2015
It is impossible not to notice that only frequency of sex is mentioned, quality, both physical and emotional, is not even alluded to.

Regarding the bed in the accompanying photo: It's looks a decidedly depressing bed to engage in horizontal folk dancing, but a good bed to pass away restfully in one's sleep.

May 08, 2015
Headlines like this are why people are losing their trust in science. ;-)

May 08, 2015
The flaw in this study is that they did not have any couples have sex LESS than baseline. Assuming that the couples were happy before the study, more sex would not change that. But if they had less than they desired they may well experience unhappiness.

The assumption that more sex will make you happy is based on the accompanying assumption that an individual is getting less than they desire and that frustration plays a role in unhappiness.

The common assumption associated with the idea that more sex will make you happy was not tested and therefore the study failed to achieve what they claim to have set out to achieve.

May 09, 2015
babies are a consequence but aren't the purpose
-So procreation is an afterthought? EXPLAIN THIS BIOLOGICALLY.

May 09, 2015
You know, those who ain't getting any, say the same about money, and again, I beg to differ.

May 09, 2015
"More sex doesn't lead to increased happiness"

Well my study found the opposite, and it had a larger sample size (your mom).

May 09, 2015
"More sex doesn't lead to increased happiness"

Yeah, but sex with more different partners might....

May 11, 2015
Happiness increase occurs between levels of "not enough or none" and "satisfactory".

Same for food. Eating makes you happy, right? So let's test this by instructing people to eat more than they want and we'll see if this makes people happier.

Easy to see the flaw when it is associated with such a common experience.

In fact as far as satisfaction, desire, unhappiness for want of, desperation due to starvation and satiation, food can substitute as a diminutive version of sexual desire and satisfaction even down to 'snacking between meals'...and what of the Coolidge effect and increase sex??

May 11, 2015
So procreation is an afterthought? EXPLAIN THIS BIOLOGICALLY.


Those individuals that had an urge to have sex, then had sex, passed their genes on to future generations that were more likely to have urges to have sex.

Those individuals that did not have an urge to have sex did not pass on their genes.

Many things can cause that urge to have sex, but thinking about children isn't usually one of them. This can be explained biologically by "those individuals that equate babies with sex were usually creepy enough to be eliminated by their populations, or at the very least, found to be unacceptable sex partners, and didn't pass on their genes (although creeps still appear at random but don't seem to be able to get a real genetic foothold)."

Note that the urge occurs independent of knowledge of consequences: You can get caught, you can get STD's, you can get pregnant, you can have a zipper accident, the bed could collapse, the toaster could short out...

May 11, 2015
So procreation is an afterthought? EXPLAIN THIS BIOLOGICALLY.

Now I'll throw it back on you: If procreation is the purpose of sex, explain masturbation biologically, including why even babies do it. They aren't thinking of procreating, or even thinking at all, are they?

Could it be that sex simply feels good, and that is its "purpose"?
That if it didn't feel good and its only purpose was to rip open a vagina and pop out another human to feed, we wouldn't be here discussing this?

May 11, 2015
@SoylentGrin, do you think it feels good for a mantis to be eaten after sex? I'd guess not. I think you have the 'sex feels good' thing round the wrong way. It's biologically made to feel good specifically in order to trick organisms into having it and thus serve a greater purpose, that purpose being to continue the gene line. You also neglect to allow for the psychological ego oriented purposed of sex that are unique to humans. Not to say I disagree with all your points but they are nevertheless badly flawed.

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