"Sex is like money," wrote John Updike, "only when there is too much of it, it is enough." But it turns out that this is not entirely true, at least in the context of monogamous relationships. How much sex is enough? In 2015, a group of psychologists from the University of Toronto decided to find out.
In a study titled "Sex Frequency Determines Increased Well-Being, But Bigger Isn't Always Better," Amy Muse, Ulrich Schimmack, and Emily Impett have shown that there is actually a perfectly accurate sex rhythm that (for the average couple) optimally promotes the well-being of partners - once a week.
The researchers found that the difference in the well-being of a couple who had sex once a week and those who had sex less than once a month exceeded the difference in the well-being of those who earn $ 75,000 a year and those who receive $ 25,000. In other words, quadrupling your frequency of sex improves your mood in about the same way as making an extra $ 50,000 a year.
However, while too little sex can make a couple less happy, too frequent sex can also increase stress rather than pleasure, especially if anxious couples feel compelled to do it. This need, driven at least in part by social expectations and comparisons, is perfectly real.
Tim Wadsworth, a sociologist at the University of Colorado, in his 2014 study Sex and the Pursuit of Happiness: How Other People's Sex Lives Affect Our Feeling of Well-Being, echoes Updike's claim that sex is like money. However, according to Wadsworth, what they have in common is that their value is determined by comparison.
Wadsworth drew attention to previous research, according to which happiness does not depend on the absolute level of income, but rather on the level of your income compared to the income of those around you: colleagues, neighbors, former classmates and other people who form your reference group. That is why an increase in income does not always cause a corresponding increase in the feeling of happiness: it is important that the income of the members of the reference group does not grow at the same time.
Likewise, surveys conducted by Wadsworth found that respondents who believed they had sex more often than members of their reference group felt happier. Those who think their group members have more sex are less satisfied with their lives. Accordingly, Wadsworth concluded, the feeling of happiness is positively correlated with the frequency of sex in a person, but negatively correlated with the frequency of sex in his acquaintances.
However, after a certain moment - apparently, when there is more sex than about once a week - its benefits for the couple diminish. This means that the connection between sex and happiness is determined not only by the desire to keep up with the neighbors. Moreover, the sense of competition that forces a couple to have sex as often as possible can do more harm than good.
In this year's study, More Than Just Sex: Feelings of Love Help Balance Sexual Activity and Well-Being, a new theory of the relationship between sex and happiness is proposed. Its authors - Anik Debro, Natalie Meuwli, Amy Mewes, Emily Impett, and Dominic Schöby - argue that the true role of sex in relationships is determined by its ability to strengthen relationships between partners through shared love feelings, not just shared pleasure.
The author even suggests that sex and love feelings can compensate for each other in supporting well-being: an increase in these feelings outweighs a decrease in sexual activity during certain periods of life, for example, after the birth of a child. This period is sometimes associated with an increased risk of infidelity in a male partner.The idea is that alternative forms of manifestation of love feelings allow to maintain well-being, thereby reducing the temptation to commit adultery (however, male respondents tend to have stronger sexual desires, therefore, for them, sex is perhaps a more important way of expressing love feelings than the average for women).
Apparently, psychology is already able to refute Updike's assertion that only an excess of sex can be sufficient. In fact, while regular sex is vital for fostering intimacy and cultivating happiness through shared love feelings, more sex isn't always better. Sex can be like money, but only in the sense that too little sex is bad.