Think more sex makes you happier? Think again, say researchers
This research obviously comes on the heels of a multitude of learning aids, literature, entertainment, and quasi-science trying to impose that, for the most part, more sex equals better lives.
But the devil is in the details. What behaviors and moods do we associate with sex – and how does the cause/effect chain really work? Such are the questions the researchers at Carnegie Mellon University set out to answer.
To arrive at their results, they performed several studies. In the first, they split people up into groups, comprised of married male-female couples aged 35-65. They told one group to double the frequency of intercourse and left the other group as they were.
To establish baselines, the researchers had partners complete different types of surveys. First came a questionnaire that participants had to fill out daily: this would account for personal feelings of health, happiness levels, type of intercourse chosen and particular characteristics the partners associated with each time, e.g. how enjoyable it was. Upon expiry of the three-month monitoring period, they’d take another survey to determine if the baseline had changed.
The conclusions were not all that surprising – the couples being ordered to have more sex did not particularly experience increased enjoyment. In fact, the increased frequency resulted in a decline of pleasure, and the desire they did report was lower than the established baseline.
Scientists tied this to the simple reason that the participants were acting on orders and not initiating sex themselves half the time.
"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," 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 says.
"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 babysitting, hotel rooms or Egyptian sheets, rather than directing them to do so," he added.
But that’s not discouraging Loewenstein from thinking happy thoughts that increasing sex with the right stuff in mind is absolutely beneficial. The same goes for his colleague Tamar Krishnamurti, who believes we make our own fate when it comes to enjoyment and that the findings could go a long way to helping couples rediscover that, as opposed to relying on statistics.
"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, couples may want to work on creating an environment that sparks their desire and makes the sex that they do have even more fun," Krishnamurti says.
The team’s findings are published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.