Having More Sex Won't Necessarily Make You Happier, Suggests Hope-Crushing Study

05/13/2015 10:25 am ET | Updated May 15, 2015

Academic studies can be fascinating... and totally confusing. So we decided to strip away all of the scientific jargon and break them down for you.

The Background
When it comes to sex, people often think: The more, the better. (And if you're having fun, why not?) Researchers often take that one step further, suggesting: The more sex you have, the happier you'll be. Considering all of the health and mood benefits of orgasms, this sounds logical enough, but research has yet to establish that having more sex actually causes people to experience a boost in happiness.

The Setup
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University recruited 64 married heterosexual couples between the ages of 35 and 65, asked how much sex they were having and told half of those couples to double their sexual activity for the duration of the 90-day study. The second group of couples wasn't told to do anything regarding their sex lives. Couples who reported significant health problems, pain during intercourse or negative sexual tension in the relationship were excluded from the study. To keep track of how often the couples had sex and their happiness, the researchers had all couples answer 10-minute surveys each morning during the study.

The Findings
The couples in the double-your-sex group followed instructions perfectly, and did just that. As for that accompanying boost in happiness the researchers suspected they'd find? There was none. Dutifully having more sex actually made these couples slightly less happy -- and even reduced their desire for and enjoyment of sex. Instead, happiness was linked with how close partners felt to one another and whether or not the sex they were having was enjoyable.

The researchers had some concerns about these findings, though, since the couples in the study's test group weren't getting it on voluntarily -- they were doing it because it was a requirement of participation. This "excitement-dampening" effect, as the researchers put it, may have caused couples to lose intrinsic motivation for sex, which could have lessened the enjoyment they got from it. Thus, no subsequent lift in well-being.

The Takeaway
This new research doesn't mean that more sex can't cause people to become happier. It just means that upping the frequency of the physical act alone isn't the key. If couples feel compelled to do it more often -- say, because they read dogmatic article after dogmatic article directing them to do so -- that might just set them up for failure. If you're having sex when you and your partner both want to have it and the sex is good, then you'll probably be happier. There's no need to force it or stress out if you're not riding the "sex every night" wave.

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